Michaux State Forest, New Year’s Christopher Kempf We run the kókúku trail (translation— snow owl, in late-American) alone this morning, its strict, midwinter alders dark against the snowfall, its flocks of crows shrieking as we pass. & as for the river— there is a river. & as for those vast accumulations of gasses—& as, too, for the Fords & Hyundais, & the flows of copper from Chile to Santa Cruz & the migrant workers of Sri Lanka scaling their towers in Dubai—that will, some evening, rear up & expunge us, yes, we can almost imagine ourselves last here, our species’ sole surviving pair of scavengers ventured forth for water & shelter, as surely it will be, we accept now, those new years the planet—poor rock—is at last absolved of us. Except, of course, someone, we notice, has just this morning cleared the fallen mulberry tree from the trail, & someone, we know, has worked all month at the little plaque-like nameplates for oak & honeysuckle, has rendered, we can see, their intricate arboreal branch-work with all the gaudy reverence of an amateur. & aren’t we? It was the French who began such labor. Who came south with their fur trade, & who carried here the sextants & compasses & their bug for the new science, with which, I was taught in the sixth grade, they lopped & divided & named & measured & mapped the atlas of the marvelous world. It must have been a kind of paradise then, no? Its crows would eat from your hand. Its hickory trees bore such fruit, reports say, Stéphane Michaux lived all winter on their plenty. The French imagined their future—children laughing, democracy, et cetera. Our trail turns west, & we follow, now, through the sedge & crusted snow, to a bluff beyond which, we observe, the stubbled fields fall away toward Pittsburgh & Cleveland. & we can see our breath as it pools & vanishes. Deer flee. From the highest location for miles, Milton says, he is shown, Adam, the wide & lavishly manifold history that will follow him. & it is glorious, partly. How the banners ripple cleanly from their turrets. With what refinéd grace the courtesans attend their farandoles & coronations. Paintings. Waltzes. Also, however, in the teeming congeries of men & animals, influenza racing like a terror. Diphtheria lifting its lurid flag, & back of this, Milton describes, the emergent money systems of sixteenth-century Europe carried forth in the rolling cannon smoke of capital. He would have, Michaux, heard often of their savagery. He would have called it that, & been properly appalled when four Lenape entered a schoolhouse here, winter 1764, & peeled their blades across the skulls of the children as they practiced their numbers. He would have wept probably, though for the Lenape it seemed simply the extravagant end of a whole history of sicknesses & ruin. & we could understand this, could we not? When finally the earth—or “this goodly frame, a spot,” Milton says—starves us from its forests & riversides, it will not be merciful. It will finish us slowly. We know this. We make our way back, together, through the honeysuckle & alders, our garden’s great beasts shifting in their warrens, the river’s ice floes slipping, like us, out to that fallen world where, today, we will watch the recordings of some marvelous ball dropping, again, through the old year’s last seconds. Its smallness— that’s what gets him. How for Adam the vast globes rolling in their sky lanes, & comets & stars & “space incomprehensible” between the moon & Sirius exist merely—oh, & here he is particularly brilliant, listen—to “officiate light” round this meager atom, the world. & round its lemon trees & robins. Round his wife’s hair in its evening coruscations. Her hand in his hand. & the lush & ample breast of the new world laid before them. For that, he thinks, my God, what wouldn’t we butcher? Christopher Kempf is the author of Late in the Empire of Men, which won the Levis Prize from Four Way Books. Recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, he lives in Cincinnati and is a doctoral student in English Literature at the University of Chicago. Michaux State Forest, New Year’s appears in our Summer 2016 issue.