Poem for Lichen

They say that even the tiniest blossom
is making a brave struggle
to live in an unfriendly world
of storm and drought,
the sudden claws and windy teeth
of its countless enemies.
It unfurls while we sleep,
our dreams like the flags
some strangers left behind
in our blood or in our eyes,
plastic in the night.
It rearranges dead things
into sugar and starch
and fats and protein.
Some plants have a strange power,
others an evil reputation.
I read about a cactus
that falls on middle management,
a hedge that resembles candy,
a dark, red-veined flower
that only digests meat.
Sometimes it seems overwhelming
that so much of this world’s teeming
is just the result
of every living thing
trying not to die.
The park explodes around me
with what’s survived,
green and bright and striving
to take the day and turn it
into some kind of vitamin
that might sate their cells
through the darker times.
They say any part of an animal
that isn’t being used
will disappear completely,
though it may take generations.
I don’t know what they think
when one of them dies.
Perhaps they demand blood from the sun.
Perhaps they chew on some sap
from the trees that hold the night up
like a tarp stabbed through by light.
When Jarrod overdosed,
they say some guy named Adam
drove him up Castle Hill
and left him in the parking lot
outside the county hospital,
where alone in his own car he died,
white as the rocks the sea doesn’t want,
white as the moon
that coughs up the tide.
They say the two of them were drunk
and Jarrod had never gotten high.
They say Adam was angry
with Jarrod’s partner Emily
because she told Adam’s wife to leave him.
They say that he was angry
and he shot Jarrod up
with a dose more than twice
what an addict could survive.
I hear about all of this
in the distant state where I live,
so far from home
that my entire life feels like an alibi
I might show the ghosts
my brain unfolds
as a fire does its smoke
to come and find me.
When someone dies,
they say it’s only right to hold them
in the quiet rooms we set inside.
We say their names.
We find something to light
and breathe out slow
so as not to shake the flames
that number them
on the tables we have made.
They say that when this planet turns,
lichen will be the last thing alive,
so now I go around
whispering everything to lichen.
I know it takes what I say for the breeze,
but at the same time
it’s not so bad
to be confused for the mumbling
that strums and mutters
and touches the world
indiscriminately as a slamdance.
I quiver among the weeds.
When I finish, I will be alone
in the ongoing evening
of what I know,
and I will walk home
as slowly as a cheese
trying to get back
to what a cheese has known
as the crows in the trees
close their eyes and go to sleep
and the clouds above them
keep on believing
in nothing but the weather
they leak down on me
because I am between them
and what they feed,
which looks like nothing but dirt to me,
a congress of bones
who know not what
this land shall grow.

Christopher DeWeese is the author of three books of poems: The Black Forest and The Father of the Arrow is the Thought, both published by Octopus Books, and The Confessions, published in the UK by Periplum Poetry. Other new poems of his will appear soon in Kenyon Review, Granta, New England Review, and Harvard Review. Originally from Port Townsend, WA, he is currently Associate Professor of Poetry at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.