Bailing Out-A Poem for the 1970s

By Eleanor Wilner b. 1937 Eleanor Wilner

Whose woods these are I think I know ...

The landings had gone wrong; white silk,   
like shrouds, covered the woods.
The trees had trapped the flimsy fabric
in their web—everywhere the harnessed bodies   
hung—helpless, treading air
like water.
                  We thought to float down
easily—a simple thing
like coming home: feet first,
a welcome from the waiting fields,
a gentle fall in clover.

We hadn’t counted on this
wilderness, the gusts of wind
that took us over; we were surprised   
by the tenacity of branching wood,   
its reach, and how impenetrable
the place we left, and thought we knew,   
could be.
               Sometimes now, as we sway, unwilling   
pendulums that mark the time,   
we still can dream
someone will come and cut us down.   
There is nothing here but words, the calls   
we try the dark with—hoping for a human   
ear, response, a rescue party.
But all we hear is other
voices like our own, other bodies   
tangled in the lines,
the repetition of a cry from every tree:

I can’t help you, help me.

Eleanor Wilner, “Bailing Out—A Poem for the 1970s” from Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1997 by Eleanor Wilner. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P. O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368-0271,

Source: Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1998)

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Poet Eleanor Wilner b. 1937

Subjects Travels & Journeys, Life Choices, Social Commentaries, Activities

 Eleanor  Wilner


Eleanor Wilner was born in 1937 in Ohio. She earned a BA from Goucher College and a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, where she completed her dissertation on the imagination, a work later published as Gathering the Winds: Visionary Imagination and Radical Transformation of Self and Society (1975).  Active in civil rights and peace movements, Wilner is known for writing poetry that engages politics, culture, history, and myth. . . .

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SUBJECT Travels & Journeys, Life Choices, Social Commentaries, Activities

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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