Poems by Justine McNulty

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Lichen

by Justine McNulty

From Canary Winter 2016-17

Justine currently lives in northeast Ohio where the Cuyahoga and Chagrin Watersheds meet. However, she has spent most of her life in the southwest region of the state, near the Mill Creek Watershed, close to the Kentucky border, where she lived among rolling hills and thick forests.

Flecks of dry, cracked paint, tissue paper-brittle and parched with age, lichen clings to trees and rocks and stumps, pale green as a morning fog. The color seems to suggest that this is vegetable, but it is neither this nor animal. It is made of millions of bacteria swaddled in filaments of fungus, giving and taking life from one another, a combination of two or three living beings that have come together to create a solitary creature, living and flourishing in a symbiotic relationship that spans eons. Because of this synergetic relationship, lichen has no common ancestor, no lineage, and therefore is not a “species,” but something different, something unidentifiable.

These empires of fungi and fauna glow pale in dark woods, stretching across creaking boughs like dragon’s scales, puckered, frail. Being among the oldest living things on earth, lichen have been used by humans to date their own histories, to make sense of the churning undulations of the centuries, to measure what they have gained against what they have lost. Watching, stoic as ancient gods, lichen cling to the other observers—trees and rocks, mountains and the mosses that run along the moist, sloping sides of riverbeds—and tally the millennia.

Plant nor animal, ever vigilant, lichen hunker down and breathe in the putridity of humanity, the smog of civilization soaking into its pores and clogging them like a thick bile, seeping down into its roots and rotting them from the inside out.

Lichen, will you no longer catalogue our triumphs, our failures? No longer keep watch over us, our vigilant sentry? Your creaking lids slide closed with a hush of papery thinness as you slip back into your perpetual daydream, your eternal doze, tucked into the cool and damp, clinging to the sweet rot of soft wood, to the cool, mineral tang of a rock’s round back, and wait.




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