An empty trail is easy to follow.
I seek the company of shedding
trees, their branches laid bare
as these pared down years stretch
into my fifties. I forage along the moss
and leaf-loamed forest floor, find fall
berries and mushrooms, excited even
by inedible finds filled with toxins
or bugs, take my photos
and move on down the trail,
ever in search of the mottled
light that touches each still dangling leaf
and trunk, that makes the plain browns,
the dull reds of autumn shimmer and glow.
An empty trail is easy to follow,
easier to trust than those
who may not believe that we—
and by we in this extended moment
I mean me, but also you—
are worth protecting. The social
contract derided, ditched,
if it ever existed at all, so I get lost
for a spell in the brush and bramble,
to breathe deep, easy, even
as I pant and fight to fill
my spike-scarred lungs on the long uphill.
Shadows stretch and the sun
sinks low. I follow the path
as it bends toward home.
My survival skills are finely honed,
but not for this life of roots and snares.
No, I, like you, have sharpened
my senses, have placed
my wager on one more day.
I must leave these woods and adapt
to walking alone amid the smiling faces.
But I remember—
an empty trail is easy to follow.
Editor’s Note: When a poem begins with a short, declarative statement, the rest of it spends its time explaining that statement, as this poem does so well (repeating that statement several times to make sure it sinks in).