Choices by Tess Gallagher

I go to the mountain side
of the house to cut saplings,
and clear a view to snow
on the mountain. But when I look up,
saw in hand, I see a nest clutched in
the uppermost branches.
I don’t cut that one.
I don’t cut the others either.
Suddenly, in every tree,
an unseen nest
where a mountain
would be.


This is the kind of poem that invites me to read slowly and read again. I like it for its haiku-like simplicity – not many words but capable of expressing what most of us would require many words to say.

I suppose on the surface, when she sees a nest clutched in / the uppermost branches, it could just be about the value of nests and the birds they harbour. But I hear so much more about choices we make that may have effects we do not even realize. She plans to cut saplings, / and clear a view to snow / on the mountain but seeing the nest, suddenly she realizes taking away the trees to see the mountain will also take away the nest.

We make choices and there are consequences we may not even realize. It’s both simple and complex – the view of the mountain or the nests in the trees; in fact, in every tree, / an unseen nest / where a mountain / would be. Neither one right nor wrong, just different outcomes. Makes you think about your choices, yes?

16 thoughts on “Choices by Tess Gallagher

  1. Great poem. I love Tess Gallagher’s work. I once met her whilst interviewing Raymond Carver at the St. Regis hotel in New York. 1985. Me, Carver and Gallagher sat around, drank tea, and talked about our favourite New York smells.


  2. Yet another great choice of a thoughtful poem by you, Janice. Particularly poignant the more you know about this amazing poet. Have re-posted you on Twitter & posted myself on FB.

    Tess Gallagher was born into a logging family in Port Angeles, Washington US on 21 July 1943 (now 77 years of age). She studied with poet-intellectual Theodore Roethke in the University of Washington. She also had a relationship with Raymond Carver whom she met In November 1977 at a writers’ conference in Dallas, Texas. Gallagher later remembered feeling “as if my life until then had simply been a rehearsal for meeting him.”
    Beginning in January 1979, Carver and Gallagher lived together in El Paso, Texas, in a borrowed cabin near Port Angeles, Washington, and in Tucson, Arizona. They later moved to Syracuse, New York, where Gallagher had been appointed the coordinator of the creative writing program at Syracuse University; Carver taught as a professor in the English department. They bought a house together in 1982 after Carver’s divorce from his first wife Maryann.
    In 1988, six weeks prior to his death, Carver and Gallagher married in Reno, Nevada.
    Tess Gallagher has a cottage in Ireland, where she now lives and works – poem, images of her as a young and older woman


  3. This is a beautiful illustration of the ripple effects of our actions. And the ability to change our mind. Thank you Janice for your poetic awareness and for always choosing just the right poem. As always, your commentary is perfect. Big hugs, Trudy


  4. Thank you. Yes, choices can be so simple. I so often angst over them. Margaret 613-725-6941 h 613-795-9879 c

    Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.

    – Oscar Wilde.



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