Poetry Month Spotlight

Angela Williamson Emmert

When the Orchard Is Gone


I will grow a forest: weedy
box elders, fast-spreading pine.

I will cast the spores of mushrooms,
seed them throughout, those cool-

season eaters of dirt
and flesh. Perhaps I’ll live

long enough to harvest, but if
I succumb to hunger, leave my body

in the grass. The heart of the world flutters
like a bird in its failings.

To the thing that comes next,
I would contribute.

Faced with the death of trees
I’m forced to believe in death


believe in the way I believe that I once
caught a ten-dollar ride in a van, fitted

with benches made of lumber, traveled
the highway to Darjeeling (beltless),

how when we stopped to let a young
woman puke, I almost collapsed

beneath the crush of white Himalayas,
a white moon peaking over jagged

edges setting the world on tilt. Mountains
crumble down into sand someone might

dig from a hill, like we did as kids,
unearthing pockets of rotting granite

that crumbled like sugar-cookies. I’ve peered
inside the metropolis of a fallen sequoia

and photographed the wild crossings
that once were her guts and whispered

greetings to her babies, and all of this
I have done and never measured death.

But show me a dying oak, my uncle’s oak,
framing his view of a lake, going gray

with wilt and an entire evening of news
without one word of a species

passing, and now I know death’s measure,
know to be afraid of trees dropping in forests

or in yards, hybrid poplars rotting at the base,
branches bleaching, giant ash, the skin

hidden by bark burrowed under by beetles.
Or something simpler: my grandmother

clipped a willow branch in her twenties,
rooted it in her backyard. Grandchildren

strictly forbidden from swinging
in its branches limited themselves to only one go.

She outlived it. They took out the stump
when she moved into town, to a small house,

one without stairs. Nothing to carry us
upwards, to renewal, or some other quiet end.

*This poem previously appeared in Lakeshore Review 22 (Fall 2022).

What To Make of the Bodies


The orchard I planted for my father’s memorial
languishes. Fungus infects

the spongy trunks. They slip bark
in rings, sloughing it off like tokens that have lost

their meaning, like dry skin, like ash. I’d like to dig
him up, my father, turn his time-torn

body loose, let the wind
flake away the graying hairs, the strands of red

that still clung in his beard. I would grind
his bones with the gravel of my driveway to mingle

with the ribs of a redbelly snake and the feathers
of the wren I wrestled from the cat.

She lies beneath the winter-burned boughs
of a pine greening at the tips, feeding

what creatures come by her. My dying
orchard. I dream of your blooming,

of petals felled by rain, caught
in grass, dissolving with the dew.



No butterflies came to the garden
this year. I could hardly stand
to look at the milkweed,

prolific but empty. My flowers
withered unvisited.
Not a single monarch. No yellow

swallowtails or blues, hardly
even a sulphur or a cabbage
white. All summer the ox-eyed

daisies naturalized, waved
their yellow masses, mixed
with the goldenrod in the perimeters

of our yard, but nothing fluttered
among them. It’s enough
to make me fold this poem

into the shape of a butterfly to launch
like a paper plane over the flower
bank if only to fill

the loneliness. Maybe this is the future:
we’ll decorate our yards with the memories
of flowers, of bees

and dragonflies and all manner
of flying or crawling bugs. A million crafters
employed to shape

them from tin, wings
attached with springs so their flapping might
comfort us, so many motherless

monkeys wrapped around our water
bottles, or chicks huddled
under lamps, a widower lunching with a photo

of his wife, or the insomniac
who plays a recording of leaves
turning, of waves

lapping stone, of birds
breaking through morning. Until we
forget. The air

this summer has been so still
only a poem can float there. It rides
the red hum of the sun’s

descending and crests a hill
out of sight. But listen.
Do you hear how it whistles?

How it answers the sky’s
gloaming blue?

Artist Statement

My orchard got sick, and I’d never felt so betrayed. I spent the summer treating the fungus, repairing rabbit and mower damage, and enriching the soil. We live in a strange time, though, when so much of what we once called “natural” no longer is, and in these poems, my orchard’s struggle with an unnaturally humid summer is not a synecdoche for the struggling world but is the world’s struggle. My feeling of betrayal, though, was projection. It is we who have betrayed. So many small deaths. Even if they go unnoticed, we are fools to think they do not change us. Through my work, I seek language for that change. Now a year has passed. My orchard may never be what it once was, but it persists. As do I.

Angela Williamson Emmert lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband and sons.

National Poetry Month
National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

Happy National Poetry Month! For poets and poetry lovers—and perhaps for those who love poets—this is a special time. At Brain Mill Press, we like to celebrate all month long by sharing featured poets. This year, we’re reprising award-winning poets from prior years’ contest, introducing new poets we admire, and inviting submissions to a joint chapbook contest with the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets to celebrate the work of a Wisconsin poet with publication.

Top photo by feey on Unsplash