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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Little Gods of the Forest

Air Date: Week of

Major Jackson’s poem the Body’s Uncontested Need to Devour, An Explanation is inspired by the moss he sees during his long walks across the Vermont forest. (Photo: Joshua Mayer, Flickr CC BY SA 2.0)

Poet Major Jackson joins Host Jenni Doering to read his poem, “The Body’s Uncontested Need to Devour, An Explanation” and reflect about forest bathing and immersing ourselves in nature as a vital life-giving experience.


DOERING: April is National Poetry Month, so we turn now to a poem inspired by lush mossy forests like the redwoods. Here’s Major Jackson with his poem “The Body’s Uncontested Need to Devour, An Explanation.”

I am bathing again, burying my face

into the great nations of moss.

I am leaning in, smelling the emerald mountains

and the little inhabitants crossing

over rock-like boulders and tree trunks empired

bit by bit. My nose must come to them

like a probing spaceship causing a mighty eclipse.

They speak in whispers but do not shriek

when gazing into the dim landing bays

of my cavernous thoughts. I am grazing

like a Dionysian. I come not with religion.

I come yearning for first spring and a thirst for spores

pooling like mercenaries in the dark.

The little gods of the forest live here.

I want to ingest their verdant settlements

until they carpet my cavities and convert my raptorial

self into its own ecosystem, off into the green.

Major Jackson is an American poet and professor at Vanderbilt University. (Photo: Patrice O’Brien)

DOERING: Towards the end it seems like you are contemplating dissolving into this green world, into this ecosystem. Can you talk about that?

JACKSON: Yeah. Well, we've all heard the term forest bathing now and Shinrin-yoku and the idea of healing through nature. And some part of me experiences that every time I go out as a transformation of sorts. And so, in that particular instance, I am alluding to that feeling that I get. But I also as a Dionysian, you know, someone who wants to not only experience that healing but also someone who believes that this is how we remain alive. We are part of the biodiversity that makes up our ecosystem, so that interrelatedness, that sense of life giving life is kind of what I'm exploring there. Which may mean interestingly enough, now that you pose that question there, which may mean a dissolving into the world around us, which we know we're eventually going to do. So, there's this wonderful kind of tension there.

DOERING: Major Jackson is a poet and Professor at Vanderbilt University and the host of the Slowdown Podcast. Thank you so much for joining us Major.

JACKSON: Thank you Jenni, it’s been a pleasure.



Learn more about Major Jackson

Major Jackson’s profile from the Poetry Foundation

The New York Times | “The Body's Uncontested Need to Devour, An Explanation”

Orion Magazine (No paywall) | “The Body’s Uncontested Need to Devour, an Explanation”

Pre-order Major Jackson’s forthcoming book of poems “Razzle Dazzle”

Follow Major Jackson on Instagram

Listen to “The Slowdown” podcast, hosted by Major Jackson


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