His Previous Life as a Lichen

He did not go far, and the journey was long.
It seemed his quest was to enact the shadow
of a distant ridge, until it was the distant ridge

that became somehow the shadow of him.
This freed him to swaddle an entire stone,
to be a cloak, to gown the gray granite of a cog

in a mountain’s machinery, to be the skin of it,
to feed it such moisture as he could sift
from rain and snow and wind. He was happy.

Everything he thought became his being.
Everything was the same. He knew his place
and his place was everywhere he could feel.

The fire that killed him released his spirit,
and a woman breathed it and became
his grandmother, who planted a moss garden

behind her house. At first he did not know why
he loved the place so much. Then the wild lichen
that had affixed itself to the ear of a stone rabbit

spoke to him in a tongue he understood: a calling.
Speak of the silence, say nothing not a secret
to the world. Kiss the earth for all your life.

Robert Wrigley has published nine collections of poetry, the most recent of which is Anatomy of Melancholy (Penguin, 2013). His poems have appeared in many journals, including Poetry, The Atlantic, Barrow Street, and The New Yorker, and were included in the 2003 and 2006 editions of Best American Poetry. Wrigley’s honors and awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Idaho State Commission on the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation, as well as the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, the J. Howard and Barbara M.J. Wood Prize, the Frederick Bock Prize from Poetry magazine, the Wagner Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Theodore Roethke Award from Poetry Northwest, and six Pushcart Prizes. From 1987 until 1988 he served as the state of Idaho’s writer-in-residence.