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Poetry Moment: “hardwoods” by Nancy K. Pearson

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Todd Davis is a professor of English and Environmental Studies at Penn State Altoona.

This episode's poem is “hardwoods” by Nancy K. Pearson.

Nancy K. Pearson is an Assistant Professor at West Chester University who enjoys cycling through the Pennsylvania countryside. She is also the author of Two Minutes of Light, which won the PEN New England Award and the Lambda Literary Award. Her most recent book is The Whole by Contemplation of a Single Bone, which received the Poets Out Loud Prize. She has been published in an array of anthologies and journals, such as Oxford American, Alaska Quarterly Review, Iowa Review, Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology, and the Provincetown Arts Magazine.

Here in Pennsylvania we’re surrounded by hardwood forests that include such deciduous trees as American basswood, American beech, sassafras, yellow and black birch, shagbark hickory, red and sugar maple, white and red oak, tulip poplar, and black tupelo, among others. Each year these trees change their colors before they lose their leaves, putting on quite a show, and they each perform at different times, some turning as early as late August or early September, others waiting until nearly November. Pearson offers a meditation on this transformation, confessing that she forgets which tree is which and borrowing from Shakespeare to pose the question: Why lifts she up her arms in sequence thus? Along the way she discovers what she misses as the trees grow dormant and bare, evoking a particular mood or emotion for the approach of winter.



Every year I forget the hardwoods.

Which trees are which,
Which ones idle for awhile,
Which ones burn with fever by September.

Sweet tree, unpacking your blue red leaves.
Sweet tree, gathering ink.

Why lifts she up her arms in sequence thus?
Sweet tree, you heighten me

falling. Sweet tree, you cannot sustain me
fallen. Like the bee’s plunge

into the hair
inside the ear
of the flower.

Oh honey bee,
I miss you, for one thing,

complaining all summer.
The trees get so quiet with their ruin.


That was “hardwoods” by Nancy K. Pearson.

Hear more episodes of Poetry Moment at

Music by Eric Ian Farmer.

Todd Davis is the 2022-23 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.