Wrangel Island

There are only three weeks when there isn’t

frost. It’s a carpet and a maze

and, with the insects moving,

sways, as nothing pins it down.

Willows, the trees

in songs about biers and yew and death,

grow horizontally. One four-hundredth of an inch

is life there, a year’s allowance.

They’ll be lucky if they ever grow a yard.

Leaves in the summer, seventeen

species of poppies and their centers

directing daylight, very simply, to the heart.

Which is here, a hairy surface

that is soft and unfamiliar, trapping warmth airtight

in a grip. The flowers close at night

to keep the living things inside them unfrozen.

Thrift, buttercups. All impossible

things at once. They’ve evolved

not beyond, but for the harsh condition.

Marsh marigold, cotton grass.

The owls hide nine or none,

depending on the sun and the extent

of the lean times, living on skin. Then

what’s under the skin.