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Naming Trees

--for Carl


Each night in sleep you leave
our bed, return to the mountain terrain
of your Appalachian childhood—
terrain made steeper by time,
made phantom by shade of forsaken trees.
Their names copied years ago
into high school notebooks
are whispered now into the growing space
between our bodies: red cedar,
river birch, blackjack oak.


You've spent a year searching
in dreams for your father.
He has yet to appear,
to step clear of trunks, sycamore,
slippery elm. He must not know
how eagerly you wait for dusk
to descend in California, how ready
you are to return to the mountain state
where you last saw your father—
feet eaten by disease, but determined
as always to hear ice shift into Spring,
see leaves restored to limbs
bare as bulging roots.


Those roots keep you tripping,
Carl, backwards in time,
away from me, back towards the woods
of West Virginia, the names of trees
felled for firewood, beech, white pine,
others left to shade the house,
sugar maple, elder, keep cool the shed
full of your father's tools
resting as you cannot.


Exhausted by morning,
you no longer reach for my hand.
I clutch yours instead—hoping to anchor
you in California, keep you from climbing
out of this valley whose rivers flow
away from your father, away
from memories of trees whose names
you repeat now instead of mine:
hackberry, quaking aspen,
shagbark hickory,
blue ash…

Printed in the Fall/Winter 2003 issue of CLR

Heather Brittain Bergstrom

Heather Brittain Bergstrom has had poems published in Clackamas Literary Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Baltimore Review, Lullwater, and Tar River.

Two years ago she won the Willard R. Espy Award from the University of Washington for her short story published in The Greensboro Review and recently had a nonfiction narrative published in Fourth Genre.

Bergstrom lives in Northern California with her husband and two children.

Published by Clackamas Literary Review, in print and on the web at,, and
Copyright 2001-2002, Clackamas Community College