This week’s poem reminds us what it’s like to have a landscape that’s implanted itself deep in you. When you have a place like that, even the simple names of the plants and trees that you were once taught gain a significance that’s hard to render.

Deborah Cummins divides her time between Portland and Deer Isle. She is the author of three collections of poetry and a book of essays, “Here and Away: Discovering Home on an Island in Maine,” a 2013 Maine Literary Book Awards finalist in non-fiction.

Coming Again to the Woods

By Deborah Cummins

I’ve come again to the woods,

hardwood and soft, hemlock and fir,

broad-armed oaks crowned with tattered fog,

a toppled spruce still clutching the boulders

its roots had to grow around.


I’ve come again to the summers

when I was led by the hand,

steered into the trees beyond a meadow,

and someone who knew the names

bent close, whispered, tamarack, maple, willow,


slowly, the way leaves come, arrive

at their turnings. How much smaller

since then the trees have become.

How narrow this path, nearly lost

to leaves living and dead.


I mean to look up

to the furthermost limbs, but—I’d forgotten—

the ground underfoot is pocked

with so many roots, heaved rocks, a sprawl

of vines. And here and there, stumps, final, raw.


I’ve come again to the woods,

but rather than a child’s craning neck,

small palm splayed against a trunk’s deep staves,

my hands are pocketed, my head bowed,

as if my direction


were grassward, in descent.

To the lowly, mottled flecks and sparks

I didn’t notice then. Slower,

more deliberate, it’s my voice now:

bunchberry, bloodroot, trillium.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2017 Deborah Cummins. It appears here by permission of the author. For an archive of all the poems that have appeared in this column, go to

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: