The Last State Park closes on a Tuesday. The woman shuts the gate behind her in khaki-colored reverence. She is the last one to enter, this woman who searched for morel mushrooms, all brain and loam, fungi growing penile and wrinkled near the ash tree and under the cocktail umbrellas of mayapples.
She has tasted gooseberries.
She has lobbed the seeds of sweet gum against the wind.
Before her is the urine-soaked soil, rusty grass spray-painted neon green as the lights above “Girls Girls Girls” on the otherwise dark streets. She glares at the yellow tape wrapped around granite rocks – split, peeled, cored – and mourns the amputated tree limbs, the blank, lobotomized river.
The woman wonders if the sumac, the mantis, the jack in the pulpit, the custard of the pawpaw, if the late late blooms flanked in sweat, could offer witness, then maybe something could be restored.
A beetle can be suspended forever in amber.
In the distance, she hears the trucks, spinning wheels of cement.
She had been there when the campers trampled, marshmallows on sticks, littering the ground with their prim smiles and popped hips. It did not take long for the leaves to shrivel. It took even less time for the brooks to parch.
Now she surveys the barren lot and decides to bury her final treasures: a pine cone, a feather, a dead cicada. She gently covers them in dust and a single strip of moss – a tiny forest. Above the mound, she places a gravestone, a mussel shell with a smooth, pearly inside. She does it the way the crows do when they attend their long funerals.
Soon this will be a parking lot or a shipping facility. The company won’t even clear it. They will fill every valley and hollow with thick concrete, mummifying each dead leaf and brown blade of grass. The workers will sit in their cars and eat pale pink tomatoes and talk of the Clown who travels and spits his venom into the microphone. They will complain that their feet hurt, that the sun is too hot, that the boss has a vein which protrudes from his neck as he says, “Faster. Faster. Don’t you want to win that mug with the company name? Don’t you want to make us proud? Wouldn’t that be neat?”
The woman walks to the creek bed and rests her head on the stones and old bits of tire. The low hum of the trucks grows louder, but she does not move.
She whispers the prayer now uttered only by deer ticks and cockroaches and slick turkey vultures:
this is Nature
terrible and polite
only honey and plastic don’t spoil
Her Name Might Just Swallow You
L.W. Nicholson is an educator and grower of tomatoes from Southeast Missouri. Her work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Moon City Review, and others.