I'm carving my initials on a tree
with a pocketknife my father gave me
yesterday. My first tool. My first weapon.
I'm leaving a hint of who I am here
by force. I'm not killing the tree but what
was that cry I just heard? Probably just
a bird but it's a new one on me. Crow?
Pigeon? No and no. GA--that's me, or
part. I know who I am but if someone
comes through these woods and doesn't know me then
he won't know I cut these clues. But he'll know
why, I suspect, and that's enough: as if
I've put my mark on Nature--my copy
-right. Yes (mean my initials), I own all
you survey. Not just this one tree but all
its brothers and, by extension, the earth
and sky, bushes and briars and flowers,
birds and squirrels and stray cats and dogs and
whatever other creatures wander through,
including the character who pauses
here and finds the owner of this forest.
Not that he would know where to look. Chances
are he won't stop here at all but at some
strange tree. If I'm discovered it will be
by accident. And I'm not even sure
if I can find this place again myself.
It will be like stumbling on a second
finding. I may wander through here for years
and never see me again, especially
if it's me I'm seeking. Then, in ten years,
say, I'm back in the territory and
I stop to wipe my brow or take a piss
and I look up and there I am, even
taller than I stand. Well (I'll say), I'll be
damned. There it is. There I am. After all
this time. I'll reach to touch the old scars and
recall the pocketknife lost long ago,
perhaps in these very woods. I don't know.
If it's here it's rusted to Hell by now,
going back to what it was before mined
and forged and alloyed and packaged and sold
to my father and then passed on to me.
That's me, too, lying in the loam somewhere
beneath the trees. I shouldn't be careless
and wouldn't want to lose me for life.
Or suppose someone finds it before me,
picks it up and takes it home and cleans it
and slides it into his pocket, finders
keepers? There's something left of me on edge
and I'll bet that it will never wear off
no matter how much it's used. My tool. My
weapon. My birth and my death and a name.
Gale Acuff has had hundreds of poems published in eleven countries and is the author of three books of poetry. He has taught university English in the US, China, and Palestine.