Bristlecone Pine by Lynn Hoggard

              —Sawmill Park, Wheeler Peak Wilderness, NM


At ten thousand feet, where most trees reel, then bend

and die, you’re five thousand years and holding—

maybe the world’s oldest organism.

You thrive in places others cannot live,

alchemizing phosphoric and alkaline soils

through your shallow, wide-branching roots,

sealing out insects with your resinous bark.

You’ll die for centuries in tiny parts,

eroding like a mountain of gray stone,

trunk gnarled and twisted from the fierce assaults,

polished smooth by chafing wind and storm.

Your bottlebrushes whisk off hangers-on;

new life is launched in your male and female cones.

You stand here now—a survivor and a witness.

You’ve taken what no other tree can take

and used it to become invincible.


Monument to endurance, you’ve more than endured:

Shaman-like, you’re also here to speak.

Through the rings of fiber and sap at your core,

you tell the hidden story of this land.

You are our homeland’s deepest memory—

the oldest living poem of the Earth.


Lynn Hoggard should have worked to publish poems much sooner. Instead, she earned a living, pushing poetry away until, finally, it took over. Her new book, Bushwhacking Home (2017), has won the Press Women of Texas poetry award.