Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Usnea

Walk through the fairy-tale forest.
Marvel at the beauty, the color…
          the stillness;
the bearded forest trees like little,
bent-over, old men. The beards
—those pretty light green lichens—
          they are called Usnea.

Usnea grows on sick, dying trees.
It doesn’t make the trees sick.
          It only succeeds where
death has already begun; where
the light filters down through
          balding branches.
The fairy-tale forests are life
thriving on disease and death.

On the harsh iced dessert the rocks
sprout green and black flowers.
          Not flowers at all,
these lichens, too, are our old friend
          hardy Usnea.
Algae and fungus working together
thrive in an environment almost… unearthly.

That rock over there on the shelf
is a piece of that southern-most continent.
It was given to me by a friend.
The Usnea long since died and brittle,
it has come with me across decades
          and continental shifts.
These years later, I don’t remember his name,
          but I still have that sample of lichen.

A reminder of how we are both hardy and fragile.

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