Making My Peace

The owner left his gate wide open — a dare —so I crossed onto his land and met for the first time a dozen or so pine saplings clustered in a ring, their arms up, their thin copper wrists showing. At once I heaved my impossible prayers to the slight weight of their top limbs. They swayed and bent.

Far away a woodpecker drummed and paused.

I waited for the wind to hum betrayal, but the small needles trilled hymnlike and all my secrets held fast in the gnarled eyes of wood.

Were it not for the title, "Making My Peace," Jones's poem could pass for pure nature verse. But in the shadow of such a title, we can read the "impossible prayers" and his "secrets" in different light, particularly in combination with the ending: The gnarled eyes of wood seem to behold the speaker's sins against nature.

The idea behind the poem, as the title also suggests, calls for a quiet ecological commitment. Finally, Jones speaks with a hushed, plaintive voice in keeping with his understated epiphany. The approach avoids preaching at all costs.

Like Jones, Neal Bowers doesn't write overtly environmental poems, although nature figures prominently in his work. Bowers, author of several poetry collections and a top literary editor, says he likes to explore the connection, or lack thereof, between humankind and the surrounding natural world. "My own vision of nature is, I hope, characterized by humility and even awe," he says. "Humans have a tendency to think they are the supreme beings on the planet and that everything lives (and dies) at their pleasure. Personally, I side more with the earlier cosmologists who viewed humankind in the context of nature and less with my contemporaries who think the surrounding world is nothing more than a projection of one's own fictive imagination.

"When I die," he adds, "I fully expect the world to go on, without my perceptions of it. The fact that it will stop for me, individually, is of no great consequence on the large scale." Thus, he observes, the concepts of man over nature or nature over man misrepresent the ecological realities of our lives —"not just our human lives but all lives.

"We're all part of the same, lovely, breathing thing." This poem by Bowers best represents this view:

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