“I really admire your poems—they are vivid and fresh and honest. Completely unpretentious and beautifully made. . . .The whole thing has such a warm spirit of ‘We live here’–as you say at one point. The specificity of settings and of your own person alive in these poems is really fetching, but the poems go far beyond yourself to being universal and inviting to any reader.” –Deborah Garrison, author of The Second Child and A Working Girl Can’t Win


Click here to read and listen to Antivenin No. 3

Click here to read Report from the End of the Twentieth Century


After Reading The Late Great Lakes

The dead gave their last blood to birds:

cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, and the downy woodpecker,

red-capped, persistent,


Extracting food from trees in small portions

in every season. Deer browse fairways, medians, and kitchen gardens.

More real estate is parceled, so


more roads flood fields and woods.

Shores erupt in built things that have never held a seed.

And citylight falls over us like flames.


On the beach where waves arrive,

caddies worms gather forest litter into cloaks, then creep

almost invisible, into fresh water


where fish rise from the bottom and eat

what they need and when, a great lake flowing coolly over

them and under them and through.

(from A Fine Canopy, 2020; originally published in Seiche Ways, Editors, Ari Mokdad and Anne-Marie Oomen, 2018)


Scrub and brush

reassert grow


after so much assembly

so much undone


I learned asphalt isn’t forever

He was twelve


And I was dragging

decades of concrete


behind me without even realizing—

Drop them then


Tear them up and plant

vegetables in a parking lot


Goats and chickens behind

the last house standing


Totally illegal

but no one complains


He was probably forty-something

What’s there to complain about


And Eastern Market fills up with flowers

and a hundred thousand people

(from A Fine Canopy, 2020; originally published in Ghost Fishing: An Anthology of Eco-Justice Poetry, Editor Melissa Tuckey, 2018)


And the Trees’ Crowns

And the trees’ crowns

make a boundary

between dunetops and clouds.


A hundred different kind of birds

have hidden there

and a half inch of soil breathes

upon the sand

piled by wind and water.


Swales hold rain and seep

unless too many

sea molecules disappear.


This heat has no precedent.

The sun returns with the moon

and the silver glaze of sidewalks.


I’ve been stepping as lightly as I can

into moonless backcountry black

where stars are coldly commonplace.


My needs are boundless.

The water’s still so cold

the sea’s floor could be another planet,

my steps toward it

mammalian and plain.

(from Before the Snow Moon, 2013)


In Medias Res

All the traveling through day or dark

pursued, this song or that playing


through the essential air, shadows

crisscrossing fields and roads prettily,


moon glinting off the car’s interior chrome.

This dark spangled with bling—


Spangles, the dapple-gray stallion

summer-camp girls rode through fields,


probably decades dead, buried.

Buried, the fervent hope, not used


in some unwritable way, oh please.

The old obsession with horses carried


right into the middle of life

upon the engineered skin of the earth


where forest has given way to field

has given way to concrete and built.


How natural it all feels, how inevitable,

until the nighttime light evokes


a ghost from the transition time,

grasses and flowers underfoot,


gray mane under hand, hair blown

back like a pennant on a pole


of a ship that sailed upon a wilderness of sea.

Cicadas for a soundtrack, and the wind.

(from A Fine Canopy, 2020; originally published in Before the Snow Moon, 2013)


Lake Effect

I dream of drawing trees on ivory paper, awaken

and find black night crowding

thermal windows behind thick drapes.


A few streetlights cast temporary shadows

on haunches of snow. We don’t ask

where’s the sea? We can walk to it,


and to acres of scrub, pasture, crop,

asphalt draining to it, and the reactor

it cools. Here is the cup we dip hesitantly


even under the spigot. Here is the forest

where owls ride trees, wild wind rides twigs

and feathers. A leaf surfs its gully in the snow.

(from A Fine Canopy, 2020; originally published in Dog Heart, 2011)


Proposal for a National Forest Service Brochure

Park and undress
in the empty parking lot at a trail head
Any mountain trail will do
Let the sun pour down your back
Turn and close your eyes
Watch it pour orange
Dress for the trail. Pack food, water,
and leave your human noises in the car
Climb till your heart, lungs, and limbs braid
into the rope that pulls you on
Trees anchor switchbacks
Give them your hand a few times
and brush gently against plants and shrubs
Disturb no rocks
And when you return to the car
because of course you must
be glad for the seeds which having hitched rides
will drop healthy in your wake

(from A Fine Canopy, 2020; originally published in The Huron River Review 6 2007)

Dog Heart

Kewee rarely stopped for the camera and so the whole
of her photographed life is movement stopped

I must hold the other images—Kewee resting, watching
waiting for me to catch up—in my mind. Impossible

sometimes for me, distracted, obsessed, both
The way not to remember, the way to lose things

Snow wasn’t blowing around in the trees just then
Clouds clotted the sky. The near-shore shallows were still

and green.  That Kewee and I were there together to see it
feels like some sort of miracle, that these feet keep

filling with warmth and carrying me along because
the heart that I will never see simply keeps doing its job

(from A Fine Canopy, 2020, originally published in Bear River Review 2010)

Sand Key

I jump into a school of Sergeant Majors
The yellow- and black-striped disks
of their hundreds of bodies fall, rise
and shatter sunlight

Gulf opens from surface to space
Barracudas hang
in the water and watch
as if it’s air
and they’re raptors
Perhaps they name us

Without preference
clear cold March water
buoys us all

Almost immediately I’m shivering
exaggerating strokes and kicks
to keep warm
To keep the mask sealed
I must not even grin

Who can say what a hurricane means
the one that drowned Sand Key
for instance, destroying buildings and people?

Every living thing is food
The rest is mystery

(from A Fine Canopy, 2020; first published in Dunes Review 15: 1, Summer 2010)

A note from Alison Swan

Please consider buying literary magazines, or encouraging your local library to carry them. And visit literary websites. When you do so, you help ensure that writers and readers will be able to find one another, because these are the places where writers of new imaginative writing, like the poems above, first find their audience–and sometimes, their book publisher.