My Body is a Forest
There is a face in the trees—
I lost a language
I lost a language to the gap-toothed onbirch.
Even the pine has learned how to swoon
when the wind
when the deposits a secret.
A country is born knowing what it means
A lost country is made by its daughters
and shame begins as a seed
and shame begins athat blossoms perennially
and shame bthroughout generations.
Clove keeps the cha bitter—ra for every dark
I apologbecause I could not read the recipe
written in my grandmother’s neat script.
I added cinnamonnd crushed anisecrimountain
I added and too many quartered
once I watched a mule deer unfold her limbs
once I watchamong the haloed trees
fog uncoiling at her heelsalo a ghost
into its loosened borders.
In the blood of every migrant
In ththere is a map pointing homees this body
is an ode to the scattered landscapes
that have marbled my neck
longings.Ask me how I remember her—
Not a faceAskbut a movement
Not a falegs stotting into a slip of boreal green.
A swatch of colour
A swatchin the shape of a lost country.
A daughterthwhich is to sayt coan inherited
A daughterthrough the slit of a dream.
Into the tall dark,
into the tamarack wood,
into a city, which at this hour,
could be the shape
of any migrating bird.
This is me, driving straight
into my own life,
past the river frozen over
slick, the chokecherry’s
into the roughage
of memories that surface slow
and tired, memories so like
the stars enacting
what is already gone.
I am grasping at
the things easiest to love:
Anas acuta, Pinus resinosa,
Anthaxia inornata, the
language of the prairies,
diction that I have held
like a dog with birch in her
mouth, a landscape that runs
through a body,
is a body—
into the boiling ginger,
into the neck of a loved one
folded like a leveret,
folded like a letter
folded I wish you were here,
folded like a leI wish you were here—
She did not know the shape of
this country—ow thwidepe odarkjagged
bend in the river,
rock elm withering,
into unfamiliar dark, needled forest.
She searched for the water and the water
was a heartache tongued by wild deer.
In northern Alberta, she was a line of crow
edging into the unknown boreal,
a woman caught between remnants of a dream
and long mouths of birch.
Even the key of her body—
could not unlock this landscape.
Sometimes there is a fog thick enough
to hide the trees
and she imagines this country unwithers,
becomes a different land,
where her body is shaped like the river
and the river
shaped like belonging.
These three poems are from Hinge, Alycia Pirmohamed’s most recent pamphlet, published by ignitionpress (part of Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre). ‘My Body is a Forest’ originally appeared in The Adroit Journal; ‘Self-Addressed’ in The London Magazine; and ‘Elsewhere’ in The Temz Review.
Readers can purchase Hinge direct from ignitionpress.
Image credit: distribution map of karst rocks in eastern Canada, from Olav Slaymaker, Norm Catto (editors), Landscapes and Landforms of Eastern Canada, Springer 2020.
This is part of ROOT MAPPING, a section of The Learned Pig devoted to exploring which maps might help us live with a clear sense of where we are. ROOT MAPPING is conceived and edited by Melanie Viets.