The visual image of a used toothpick on a cocktail napkin popped into my head one evening and I thought, "Where did this toothpick come from? What kind of tree is it from? Who chopped down the tree that eventually became thousands of toothpicks?" This tiny piece of wood was from a tree that is gone and the toothpicks it was fashioned into are also gone. I wrote in my notebook all the feelings I felt for my imaginary soon-to-be-discarded toothpick and the birch tree from which it came. I tried getting as far out there with my free-associations before I stopped and looked at what I wrote. It was clear I saw the birch trees as beautiful, spiritual and something that could easily be destroyed. The toothpick was a symbol— small, tangible and easily disposed— of our natural world.
What month and year did you start writing this poem?
What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? I believe God runs through us and this world He created. If we deny our innate spirituality and turn to, say, a more technological or virtual world, we will lose our link to God. That sounds so pompous, but I can’t help see everything in the universe is united in Spirit. If our stewardship of this planet we've been tasked with truly fails, a toothpick could become our only relic to not just this fragile but beautiful planet, but God. There will be ritual, perhaps, but it will be devoid of spirituality.
Kate Peper grew up amidst a large and lively family in an old hunting lodge in Edina, Minnesota, surrounded by five acres of woods that provided her hours of exploration and solitude. All this figured prominently in Kate’s early artwork, beginning with drawing and watercolor and later inspiring her poetry. After college, she found work as an animator and moved to California in 1994 to work in the then-thriving educational games industry. In the mid-2000s, she designed high-end carpets in San Francisco. All along, poetry and watercolor were her constant preoccupations and have been her main focus for the past 10 years. She has taught creative writing as part of California Poets in the Schools as well as to older adults in retirement communities. She lives just north of San Francisco with her husband Bruce and their dog Hannah.