Native orchids are so rare now
that their dwelling places
should be kept secret.
“Wildflowers of Michigan”
Feeding the fire with clumps of moss
I crouched on the stream bank under a clay overhang.
Mormor hunched beside me.
Odors lapped through us of decayed skunk cabbage and peat,
scraped husks, marsh grass, silt.
For the hundreth time in ten years
she told me the wild orchid
pressed between the pages of her Bible haunted her.
Each time she showed me the brittle bloom,
stains like rusty moons marking two pages of Deuteronomy,
she told me as a girl my age
she tried to transplant a lady’s slipper from the peat
but the plant wouldn’t take root outside the bog.
This she divined as an omen
and hiked into deep woods each spring
to wait for the orchids’ return
in their dwelling place along the creek bank.
As the flame took hold I watched
frost vaporize in amber light,
the old one on her hands and knees
searching for orchid shoots
where they broke through dead leaves and loam.
This was in early spring. That evening
dusk fell like a guillotine
and silent as a moth the old woman disappeared.
Alone among scrub fur and green willow I followed her.
In the pooled stillness of the bog, I saw
the incomplete skeletons of crawdads
shine like stars buried in the peat,
the moon reflected in Tamarack Creek. From the shadows
the nocturnal eyes of snails kept watch
like the eyes of those who have passed this way before,
their footprints cold as stone,
their silent voices humming within me.