The heart of another is a dark forest, always, no matter how close it has been to one’s own. – Willa Cather

For years I misremembered it as The heart of another
is always a dark forest
,believing the wilderness a given,
a problem to solve before we’re let in. That once you find
the way in, it’s a wood you can know, with beasts
you can name if not outwit, even when they try
to take you by wonder. Above all, that the getting close
would unravel a path in the undergrowth, beat back
stinging snarls, so we’d arrive at some degree
of recognition, then have every reason to expect
improvement, even comfort thereafter, the screaming
and slithering thinning over the years
until it’s more Hyde Park than Yellowstone.

But there’s no accounting for the loneliness
of a journey we expected to share and ended up
taking solo, and though we knew there were
tunnels everywhere underfoot, that everything
living beneath the surface was as afraid of us
as we were of it, fear kept tarnishing our way,
and the grizzly of hope was always somewhere ahead
just off the path, unaccountably cute in its hunger,
swatting berries toward its giant smiling ma
was if there were years to accomplish the task
of fattening the chance of survival.

But Cather knew what she was doing
when she moved that insipid always due east.
That the region of the heart is impenetrable ever,
that knowing the beast doesn’t shame him,
that proximity invites peril, that even
with his snout smeared in huckleberry juice,
his eyes too tiny to detect you in the bramble,
he is the intimate who stumbles toward you,
navigating by smell alone, with damage in mind.