The 83rd plate from  Ernst Haeckel 's ''Kunstformen der Natur'' (1904), depicting organisms classified as Lichenes.  { PD-US }

The 83rd plate from Ernst Haeckel's ''Kunstformen der Natur'' (1904), depicting organisms classified as Lichenes. {PD-US}

To Skin Bare


The lichen sticks to bark grooves like skin, but dead,
dried, and peeling. Like damaged skin. Diseased skin.
It's skin of another, and there's a strangeness
in the act of stripping it. Almost shy. Almost
aware of some kind of compelled intrusion. Wayward
intimacy. Compulsion to intrude right there

on a log of balsam. You peel. You strip. You take off
the skin of this other thing. Imagine it's like peeling scabs,

not yours, a friend's, a stranger's. Or taking off clothes,
not yours, a stranger's. You can think these things in the woods.

In the woods, if you have a thought and then another
and another thought, but no one is there to watch you

weather your notions as you strip lichen off bark, as you peel
bark from tree, as you reveal the bare trunk and the ooze of sap,

does anyone sense your thought-quake? If anything
is moved—if anything shudders, if anything shakes—

it is only your own unheard heart, its wavering
wick, the dormant layers it beats beneath.

Michelle Menting

Michelle Menting is originally from the upper Great Lakes region, where she grew up the youngest of twelve siblings in a small cabin in the woods. Her poetry and prose can be found in Harpur Palate, DIAGRAM, The Southeast Review, PANK, Bellingham Review, Midwestern Gothic, decomP, Connotation Press, The MacGuffin, and other places, including the chapbooks Myth of Solitude (Imaginary Friend Press) and Residence Time (Dancing Girl Press). A recipient of scholarships from Sewanee and Bread Loaf writers’ conferences, Menting earned her MFA from Northern Michigan University and her PhD from the University of Nebraska. She currently lives in northern New England.