2 excerpts from Sidewalk Naturalist


I’m interested in the concept of aftermath,

as in,

the grass

that grows

over mown meadows.

After years

of working

at a screen

at a desk

for hours

every day

as the sirens

rang in the background

and apologizing

every day

for the sirens

in the background

to the people

on the screens,

after racing

up a mountain

of tasks,

my predilection

for productivity

—radiating out

and reflecting back—

ran out.

And I just—




in the air

like a cartoon

before falling

down a metaphorical cliffside,

only feeling like

I had come

to a full stop

after many days 

of lying on the floor

reading books

about roses

and the attention economy.

And only then,

once rested,

did I stand up

and go looking

for something to do

with my hands.

At the food pantry,

Cecilia pointed me

to one bag

and then another

and said,

“Four beets in a bag.”

And so I did that.

Loamy taproots,

an anchor.

Like a tulip tree

a mack truck


straight up

known knowns

no decisions

ridges deep enough

to hold as I craned

my neck

back and up


its orange flowers

in the reaches.


At what point does the pin oak release its tight habit?

Answer: Around 40.

Around 40, it loosens into a canopy.

To fall open

in languid extension

like days lengthening.

How much more

will be knowable

if I keep returning?

to this walk,

these streets,

to the trees

that offer

such glorious


I name that willow,


A sweet gum,

jack rabbit.

The siberian elms,

the three sisters.

Wind rustles the zelkovas.

A wild catalpa strews its flowers,

luscious wells of maroon and yellow.

The hop-hornbeam thrives on neglect.

A tree of heaven

rains down

just as I pass


Is this Arcadia?

Crepe paper birch

Shaggy silver maple.

I’m besotted

by this field

by this field

note practice.

Butterfly bush.

Blue bird rose of Sharon,

Buckeye starting to fruit.

Post bloom,

the golden rain

holds up its little lanterns

telling me it has changed.

Scattered on the sidewalk

so many

early green acorns.

This is false autumn.

Under drought conditions,

in heat stress,

the trees release.

A protective measure

to refocus on living.

Every day

we choose

what to carry

into our future.

Sue Landers is the author of Franklinstein (Roof Books, 2016), Covers (O Books, 2007), and 248 mgs., a panic picnic (O Books, 2003). Her poems have appeared in Poem-A-Day, The Brooklyn Rail, The Offing, and elsewhere. She was the former executive director of Lambda Literary and lives in Brooklyn.