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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Alison Granucci

Winter Rhododendron

Four a.m. and I step out into the winter still-dark, ask the rhododendron leaves to teach me. Faithful student of the eye, morning by morning I observe as they slowly reveal their precision of curl and droop—the woody shrub’s mirror to the mercury’s rise and fall. Seen by the light spilling out of a window, at 3° above zero the leaves have lost their gloss, furl into packs of cigarillos, taper to a point directed at the ground; in pointed opposition, the tear-shaped fall-set buds stand straight up, each a lone sentry to the bitter cold. I reach, tentatively touch a leaf tip; a single drop of water escapes the green icicle of plant.

inside, a fire
in every room

At 14° above zero, the leathery leaves release their intensity of curl, begin their slow rise, defy gravity one degree at a time. In silhouette, the whorled leaves droop loose from their petioles, oddly the same angle and shape as praying mantis wings. In pre-dawn shadow, a single bud shapeshifts into an insect head and the leaf-mantis perches, frozen in its devotion. At 31° the ring of leaves flatten out and up like a fan, can almost flutter but have no flex. How like my midwinter spirits—they could use such a lift.

white wing-crescents
undulating flight
the pileated calls

At exactly zero degrees, the tightest rolled leaves I’ve seen hang straight down—at each end, the leaf’s pale inside peeks out, a sharpened tip, each cluster of leaves like so many pencils suspended without a holder. Brittle to touch, they feel like paper but contain no script—the way, in my dry winter brain, thought gets caught between idea and fruition. Then, after the ice storm and three days at 5° encased in winter’s glass, the leaves belie the true outside: they all lay open, shine broad and flat, caught in the memory of a warmer time.

tree trunks rub and creak
the big dipper drops
out of the clouds

Today, as dawn sheds a hint of light, the snow-covered shrub tells me it is 28°. Each ovoid leaf is barely cupped, hangs at ease from the juncture of bud. There is some softening in the world. Small hummocks of fluffy powder rest on every green curve, delicate and still.

red cardinal
white avalanche

Ode to the Petiole

who, since the bloom of trees, has done nothing

but connect a leaf to the stem   that is

itself   not a stem   but what

supports and swells

at the pulvinus:   a sheathing of blade

at base   allows each leaf

a sway

of shifting orientation


when the wind


causes the greenness to fold   until the Fall


which is really a push —


each leaf leaves the branch from a push:

self-destruction built in as self-

protection:   the tree cuts what it needs to live

scissors its supply   chokes its veins

until   daily

this slender connection


can barely hold on

steadily increases its dangle


lets a firm wind finish the rest


the way a hand can caress

then leave

and take everything












the first line is inspired by Ross Gay’s “Ode to the Tongue Orchid”


Alison Granucci is a poet, writer, and naturalist living in the Hudson Valley. In 2005, she founded Blue Flower Arts, a literary speaker’s agency, the first in this country to represent poets, and upon retiring in 2020 began writing her own poetry. Her work is published or forthcoming in, EcoTheo ReviewGreat River Review, Crosswinds Poetry Journal, Subnivean Journal (Poetry Award finalist), The Dewdrop, and Little by Little, the Bird Builds Its Nest (Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid) an anthology of bird poems by Paris Morning Publications. She was awarded a 2023 Artist-in-residence at Trail Wood, homestead of naturalist Edwin Way Teale, and is a graduate of the Brooklyn Poets Mentorship Program, 2022. Alison serves a reader for The Rumpus, and is currently at work on a book-length manuscript.

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