Of Roots by Jennifer K. Sweeney

Of Roots

we know little. What makes them
torque into the earth’s dark
and, like rigging, anchor
hundred-year-old trees to the clouds.
Not animal as worm or mole
yet sentient how they buckle
and nudge in service, gnarl and fur
intuiting source
in all its narrow openings.
Fanned out, a stitchworks flaring at once
or a singular plunge dagger-deep,
their business is into, unfathomed.
If you have ever followed one,
foolishly loosening first, feeling
for the knuckled crank you might
cleanly tug, they won’t give up slack
your hands tunneling further down,
then soon on your knees
pulling ropes in the night.
Source, structure, storage,
ferrying gate to the River Styx,
a root governs entry to the plant body.
Four times as wide as a tree’s crown,
we tread on top of their carbon maps,
unburdened, having said too much,
hoping the earth wants us.


Jennifer K. Sweeney is the author of four poetry collections: Foxlogic, Fireweed (Backwaters Press/Univ. of Nebraska), Little Spells (New Issues Press), How to Live on Bread and Music, which received the James Laughlin Award, the Perugia Press Prize and a nomination for the Poets’ Prize, and Salt Memory. The recipient of a Pushcart Prize, she recently won the Terrain Poetry Prize, and her poems have appeared widely in journals, including American Poetry Review, The Awl, Mid-American Review, New American Writing, Terrain, Tupelo Quarterly, and Verse Daily.

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