Ode To a Leaf of Black Sage

A few years ago I was at a writing retreat in the California coastal mountains near Calistoga, in the winter. Outside my cabin was a twisted, bare bush of some kind, with a few shriveled leaves. I leaned down to smell them and at once a fully embodied, hot, dry, aromatic California summer rose up around me. Black sage is one of the foundation plants of the California chaparral and this is an ode to all that it represents.

This poem gives its title to the second half of my new book, Whale Fall & Black Sage: Poems Of the Journey. After the darkness of whale fall, full of strange creatures both real and imaginary, telling of death and rebirth, the heroine returns to the upper world. Her journey becomes more difficult, increasingly revelatory, and ultimately transformative. “Ode To a Leaf Of Black Sage” marks the resolution of her journey.

Ode To a Leaf of Black Sage

This is the other season.
No hazy florets,
no humping ecstatic bees.

These dead tongues
unghost summer’s
mariachi, distill

a chaparral entire—
coyote bush, sagebrush,
monkeyflower, lupine,

chamise, ceanothus.
On your knees
take, eat what is given.

This is the blood
of black sage:
resinous, unfailing.

A leaf crushed
between fingers like this
saves us from desolation.

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