Pitching Camp in the Ozarks

“Pitching Camp in the Ozarks”


When you first enter the woods,

dancing witches spring out

with laughing roots.

As you walk further in,

they become cities

with sprawling sewage, water, and road systems

under and above ground—roots and stumps and things.


When you first set up a tent,

you read the instructions.

A moment of panic billows

as you look at the disjointed poles dangling

like a broken magician’s wand.

But you must do it, and so you do.

The ground grows closer in the night,

the stars brighter, and your powers more real.


When you first realize

the flashes waking you are lightening,

and hear the river rushing at your back,

wind lifting and whipping through the trees like torrents,

tent billowing behind your down-tilted head cozied riverward,

legs angled up the riverbank for relief from walking,

as if you’re birthing the world in your dreams as the rain crowns,

you are not so much afraid as surprised by the variety of light shows—

fireflies, fires, stars, and storms.


When your first unfriendly neighbor

asks if he needs to get out the videocamera

while you are setting up your tent,

you ask why.

Ask again to his reply: “To send in to America’s Funniest Home Videos”—

Why? When he falls silent, gather yourself on your own turf,

and wave your own, magic bones over the broken snakes on the bare earth.

When your house comes up fast and strong as he watches,

and he says: “Magic,”

you smile and say: “Every time.”