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julie choffel / poem

The Hinterlands

Availability is the antithesis of action.

—Woman interviewed in the Ways of Seeing TV program

I have gone to the edge and back.

But perhaps that was a mirage.

I have said, take these plants I gathered

and eat them. Wondering if you would find 

a scythe in the very heart of me. Even 

the flowers might turn

in the early evening sun

and so wherever I devoted my labors

I could know just a little of death. But what is

wilting, when the hours expand

beyond my ability to see them

and people say my name

in languages I haven’t heard. Am I seduced

by caring for you, and does it matter

that I do.


If you take me seriously

I might be able to make something 


But what if I had this epiphany long before you asked.

What bright cover I’ve hidden under

all this time

like an animal in her territory

observed from the mauled


a species whose appearance has meaning only 

in light of her absence.


My no is a road 

to a thought. The spring crows coalesce

and then disperse, agitated. 

When have I ever waited.

When have I not.


Identity is a funny thing

for example am I a nun

or a wilderness? 

Which one

is more available?


Life in which I choose the desert

in which I choose the fog

in which I choose the forest

in which I choose the sea

in which I choose the tundra

in which I choose the fields

in which I choose the moon

in which I choose the ship.


Action as movement, or as change.

There is what we do, and then what we think of it.

When we talk about how it could have been

is it just another way of saying

What now?


To care, care for, care about, take care of, a duty, a ward

an honor and privilege, a burden, a humbling, a crumb

an allowance, a sigh.

If it takes

a village, what is a village

is it an apartment complex

or is it a series of stars that only appear connected

from here.


The truth is that

I am tired

of the false lights

tired of the way my body carries me toward them

again. In the dark hour of my dreams

I will meet myself

and eat the plants that I have gathered

and when I see myself again I will wonder

where I came from.


Julie Choffel is the author of The Hello Delay (Fordham UP) and Dear Wallace (forthcoming in 2024 from The Backwaters/Univ. of Nebraska Press). She lives near Hartford and teaches at the University of Connecticut.

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