Trail of Roots. Poems by Gail Thomas, selected by Nathalie Anderson as Number 2 in our inaugural A.V. Christie Series.
Publication: November 7, 2022 [100 copies]
cover image: Mill River by Nancy Haver.
“The poems in Gail Thomas’s Trail of Roots reach deep into the mines of Scranton, Hawk Mountain, and Kittatinny Ridge, searching for ‘women/ who lived in disguise, a man’s wife kissing another/ man’s wife.’ Thomas guides the reader on a physical and emotional journey from a home with ‘beams stained with ox blood’ to a ‘garden, tongues/ of orchids circling our necks. . .’ These are poems rooted in America—with its landscapes of genocide, misogyny, homophobia. Thomas’s roots reach to her Italian ancestors, as well as her own poetic predecessors, as evinced in her ‘Cento for Women Who Are Not Believed’ and ‘Golden Shovel,’ an homage to Lucille Clifton. ‘Refusing to pray/ I watch instead the mountain.’ I loved this reaching, too, from the earth to the heavens, where the poems transform into prayers of contrition, naming, and blessing. ‘Forgive the builders of rails and interstates. . . Forgive those of us who left without cleaning up our messes.’ Gail Thomas has brought us to a place of ‘wonder/ and hallelujah, still breathing.’ I will return here many times.”
–Jennifer Martelli, author of The Queen of Queens
Gail Thomas‘s previous books are Leaving Paradise (Human Error Publishing, 2022), Odd Mercy (Headmistress Press, 2016), Waving Back (Turning Point, 2015), No Simple Wilderness: An Elegy for Swift River Valley (Haley’s, 2001), and Finding the Bear (Perugia Press, 1997). Her poems have been widely published in journals and anthologies including CALYX, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, North American Review, Cumberland River Review, and Mom Egg Review. Among her awards are the Charlotte Mew Prize from Headmistress Press for Odd Mercy, the Narrative Poetry Prize from Naugatuck River Review, the Massachusetts Center for the Book’s “Must Read” for Waving Back, and the Quartet Journal’s Editor’s Choice Prize. She has been a fellow at Ucross and the MacDowell Colony. She teaches poetry, visits schools and libraries with her therapy dog Sunny, and volunteers with immigrant and refugee communities in Western Massachusetts. Read more about Gail and her work at www.gailthomaspoet.com.
Trail of Roots
After I forget what I know about walking,
I hike this trail with my dog who is thrilled
to be free. This is not a time for Shinrin Yoku,
forest bathing, where one walks untethered.
Although a slice of sky above the canopy stares
like the milky blue eye of a newborn, my eyes
focus only on feet, what lies beneath
and ahead. Tangled web of roots course
like bruised veins at every angle, matted
leaves layer a thousand years of dead
news punctured by scarlet mushrooms and
waist high wings of ferns. In China children
are wearing brightly painted butterfly wings
to keep six feet of distance in school. What bird
is making that sawing noise, or maybe a porcupine
above, ready to drop a gnawed branch for its young?
I remember years when I used my body and skin
to feed my children, denied by their father, as if
we lived in a blind alley built of unpaid bills.
Now I follow the blue blaze on the next tree, lift
a low hanging branch before it slaps my face, then
an uphill stretch and downhill tumble of pebbles, more
up and down until calves and toes cramp, and I stumble.
When we walked home from a pride march, I pushed
a stroller and held my other child’s hand while
red faced men screamed at us. Later in our garden
a neighbor spit on the ground, the thick clot daring
me to protect them. And here a bridge of boards
spread across shallow water where the dog’s desire
to tramp in black muck is met. An orange newt
skitters over a decaying stump, home for larvae
and beetles. Sweating, I tear a wide frond of fern
to swat gnats that swarm like the bullies who taunted
on the school bus, You’re dykes just like your mother.
The lovers who came and left like borers leave
sawdust around my heart. Blocking the path
a storm struck white pine stretches like a corpse,
I hoist myself over its rough bulk, balance then straddle
before landing on solid ground. Flecks of pine
wings rain down, souls of dark-skinned boys,
child soldiers, girl brides, babies lost at the border,
unmasked and innocent. The dog bounds back
to check on me, then runs ahead, nose to the ground
on the scent of something I cannot see.
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