Instructions for the Forest

By Camille Rankine

Never mind what lies beyond
the canopy. The city

is a dream. The sound of traffic isn’t
traffic, but a swift wind

through the leaves.
Before the city,

there were these woods,
this black oak tree,

there were armies in an uproar
over whose land this would be.

It turns out, this land was made
for the living

and the dying
of natural things. Never mind

the city. On the forest floor
what rots tomorrow feeds

what’s taking root today.
We are the understory:

reaching for a tear in the tarp
that masks the sky.

Forget the fence
and the fire hydrant,

what work’s left to be done.
It turns out, this life

is a dream, built on a rock
set afloat on an infinite sea.


Camille Rankine, “Instructions for the Forest” from Incorrect Merciful Impulses. Copyright © 2016 by Camille Rankine. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, All rights reserved.