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Bon Courage

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Why are the woods so alluring? A forest appears
to a young girl one morning as she combs
the dreams out of   her hair. The trees rustle
and whisper, shimmer and hiss. The forest
opens and closes, a door loose on its hinges,
banging in a strong wind. Everything in the dim
kitchen: the basin, the jug, the skillet, the churn,
snickers scornfully. In this way a maiden
is driven toward the dangers of a forest,
but the forest is our subject, not this young girl.

She’s glad to lie down with trees towering all around.
A certain euphoria sets in. She feels molecular,
bedeviled, senses someone gently pulling her hair,
tingles with kisses she won’t receive for years.
Three felled trees, a sort of chorus, narrate
her thoughts, or rather channel theirs through her,
or rather subject her to their peculiar verbal
restlessness ...    our deepening need for non-being intones
the largest and most decayed tree, mid-sentence.
I’m not one of you squeaks the shattered sapling,

blackened by lightning. Their words become metallic
spangles shivering the air. Will I forget the way home?
the third blurts. Why do I feel like I’m hiding in a giant’s nostril?
the oldest prone pine wants to know. Are we being   freed
from matter? the sapling asks. Insects are well-intentioned,
offers the third tree, by way of consolation. Will it grow
impossible to think a thought through to its end? gasps the sapling,
adding in a panicky voice, I’m becoming spongy! The girl
feels her hands attach to some distant body. She rises
to leave, relieved these trees are not talking about her.

Source: Poetry (March 2013)

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This poem originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of Poetry magazine

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Bon Courage

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  • Known for its wit and complexity, Amy Gerstler's poetry deals with themes such as redemption, suffering, and survival. Author of over a dozen poetry collections, two works of fiction, and various articles, reviews, and collaborations with visual artists, Gerstler won the 1991 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry for Bitter Angel (1990). Her early work, including White Marriage/Recovery (1984), was highly praised. Gerstler's more recent works include Nerve Storm (1993), Medicine (2000), Ghost Girl (2004), Dearest Creature (2009), which the New York Times named a Notable Book of the Year, and Scattered At Sea (2015), which was a finalist for the National Book Award.

    In Bitter Angel Gerstler introduces a variety of narrators, including a saint, ghost, clairvoyant, father, child, and lover. Bitter Angel was enthusiastically received.  According to poet Eileen Myles, Gerstler's poetry is "extremely rich. But not cluttered and not loud." Myles added that "the supernatural, the sexy...

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