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BECOMING A REDWOOD
by Dana Gioia

Stand in a field long enough, and the sounds
start up again. The crickets, the invisible
toad who claims that change is possible,

And all the other life too small to name.
First one, then another, until innumerable
they merge into the single voice of a summer hill.

Yes, it’s hard to stand still, hour after hour,
fixed as a fencepost, hearing the steers
snort in the dark pasture, smelling the manure.

And paralyzed by the mystery of how a stone
can bear to be a stone, the pain
the grass endures breaking through the earth’s crust.

Unimaginable the redwoods on the far hill,
rooted for centuries, the living wood grown tall
and thickened with a hundred thousand days of light.

The old windmill creaks in perfect time
to the wind shaking the miles of pasture grass,
and the last farmhouse light goes off.

Something moves nearby. Coyotes hunt
these hills and packs of feral dogs.
But standing here at night accepts all that.

You are your own pale shadow in the quarter moon,
moving more slowly than the crippled stars,
part of the moonlight as the moonlight falls,

Part of the grass that answers the wind,
part of the midnight’s watchfulness that knows
there is no silence but when danger comes.

SOURCE: “Becoming a Redwood” appears in Dana Gioia‘s collection The Gods of Winter ( Graywolf Press, 1991), available at Amazon.com.

IMAGE: “Muir Woods” by Patricia Stalter. Prints available at fineartamerica.com. For more about Muir Woods, a redwood sanctuary near San Francisco, visit savetheredwoods.org.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dana Gioia is a poet and writer who also served as the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. After attending Harvard and Stanford Universities, Gioia has published four books of poetry and three volumes of poetry criticism as well as opera libretti, translations, and over two dozen literary anthologies. His third poetry collection, Interrogations at Noon, won the 2002 American Book Award. Gioia’s poems have been reprinted in numerous anthologies, including The Norton Anthology of Poetry and The Oxford Book of American Poetry. The first poet to chair the NEA, Gioia created a series of national arts initiatives, including Poetry Out Loud, Shakespeare in American Communities, and the Big Read. In August 2011, Gioia became Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California. Visit him at danagioia.net.