Surprise Comes Slowly

Surprise comes slowly to a redwood.
So slowly we might think it remorse
or grief or the color brown or
the feeling of that which has not been done.

Not dropped cones. Not made them.
Not stood gathering in the rains. Not sprung in fresh green.
Not morninged in the way of mornings,
something from the sun, something from the sea,

mist that is the halo of the great
for mouths on needles like tiny ohs
breathing coolness and damp, speaking
the small words that are alive.

Sweet and dark are the roots of another
and another and another. Large,
laden with time. Comforting. Promising
remembrance yet to come.

Surprise comes slowly to a redwood.
So slowly it may never arrive, only
the empty place in the treeline, the green crown
no longer nodding under the turning of stars,

the forest slowly forgetting itself
in generations faster and hotter,
firs and hemlocks and even pines beautiful, yes
comely. Inevitable. But surprising, nonetheless.

David Oates is the author of two books of poetry and four works of nonfiction, including The Mountains of Paris and City Limits: Walking Portland’s Boundary. His award-winning essays have appeared in Georgia Review, Creative Nonfiction, and Orion. He was Kittredge Distinguished Visiting Writer at the University of Montana and is founder and general editor of Kelson Books in Portland, Oregon.


  1. this is worth reading again, and again…

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