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Nathan Erwin


In the winter ’of 98, on the coldest, curl-you-up kind of morning, an old man sat in the channel margin, rinsing

his beard in the stream, trailing it like a catfish caressing the rivulets and runnels.

I paused,

dragging a mountain ash to the woodpile.

Back home, the fire’s ardor ran its fingers along our floorboards & still

the house groaned for more.

I watched him ring his beard & spread it again across the water’s surface. Ribs clinging to sky,

I ate a handful

of ash berries.

These days, I wish I could say I fear the woods because of ticks or the hunter’s stray bullet,

but when his grey eyes turned on me, I lived lines

of tragedy & loneliness, the shattered wineglass hearts of my family, an orgy of tendril words ending.

I ran, treeless, singing.

On that cold morning, my notes froze in the air.

I stumbled inside and they were hanging in front of my face.

That evening, I placed them on the woodstove & the aroma of sweet berries, mink-frosted leaves

filled our home.

These days, the creek has reclaimed itself, dried & becoming, limitless in mud. These days,

I believe in hunger-magic. I break my fast with the berries of the mountain ash, which, according to forest lore,

purifies the blood.


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Nathan Erwin has studied poetry and poetics under Amy Nezhukumatathil, Kyle Dargen, Jaime Chavez, and Bernadette Mayer. His work has appeared in a number of print and online publications, most recently Willow Springs, FOLIO, The Cardiff Review, and Bombay Gin; and his book Hemp and Farm Justice (Mandel-Vilar Press) is forthcoming Fall 2022.

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