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The Forest for the Trees

A poem by Rena Priest, Washington State Poet Laureate.

  • July 19, 2021
  • |
  • Poetry
  • |
  • By Rena Priest


The Forest for the Trees


I have seen a tree split in two

from the opposing weight of its branches.

It can survive, though its heart is exposed.

I have seen a country do this too.


I have heard an elder say,

That we must be like the willow—

bend not to break.

I have made peace this way.


My neighbors clear-cut their trees,

leaving mine defenseless. The arborist

said they’d fall in the first strong wind.

Together we stand. I see this now.


I have seen a tree grown around

a bicycle, a street sign, and a chainsaw,

absorbing them like ingredients

in a great melting pot.


When we speak, whether or not

we agree, the trees will turn

the breath of our words

from carbon dioxide, back into air—


give us new breath

for new words,

new chances to listen,

new chances to be heard.

Rena Priest is the sixth Washington State Poet Laureate. Her literary debut, Patriarchy Blues, was honored with the 2018 American Book Award, and her most recent work is Sublime Subliminal. A member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation, she is the first Indigenous poet to assume the role. Her term began on April 14, 2021 and will run until March 31, 2023. The poet laureate program is presented by Humanities Washington and ArtsWA/The Washington State Arts Commission.

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