Take Heart: A Conversation in Poetry: Understory

Edited and introduced by Wesley McNair, Maine Poet Laureate

Jim Thatcher lives and writes in Yarmouth. In today?s poem he tells the story of a hermit who was found outside his shack, and of the contents that were found inside it.

Understory by Jim Glenn Thatcher

The old man had always been a mystery,
living out there on that abandoned logging road
in those miles of woods between the Parsonsfields.
Months would go by without anyone seeing him.
No one even noticed when he first went missing.
Gone for all of seven seasons before a hunter found him ? 
not in those open pine woods where they?d sometimes
seen him ranging, but tangled beneath the understory
less than a hundred yards behind his shack.
Stripped down to rags on a skeleton, bedded
in spears of burdock; ribs twined with creeper;
his skull filled now with the strangeness of other life,
the sun tracking its daily course of shadow and light
along the brow of the caves where his eyes had been.
When they went in to clean out his shack,
not expecting much?a rotting cot,
a very old sleeping bag, some utensils, one cup.
it was the notebooks that surprised them.
Piles upon piles of old notebooks, all of them full ?
?Crawling with words,? someone said. A library of wildness ? Journal entries that seemed written by the forest itself, the woods he lived in become the woods living in him. Passages of a feral intelligence hedging off into its hinterlands ? Stories of stones, autobiographies of oaks and maples, a runic hand-scrawl scratching itself into granite, sand, leaf, bough, fin, fur, feather, claw, the commonality of bark and blood and bone ? Histories of a self gone Other...

Take Heart: A Conversation in Poetry is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2008 by Jim Glenn Thatcher. Reprinted from The Ur-Word, Moon Pie Press, 2008, by permission of Jim Glenn Thatcher. Questions about submitting to Take Heart may be directed to Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, Special Consultant to the Maine Poet Laureate, at mainepoetlaureate@gmail.com or 207-228-8263. Take Heart: Poems from Maine, an anthology collecting the first two years of this column, is now available from Down East Books.