By Marion Harless, West Virginian


“Well,”  they said.

“We’ll put it there. There’s nothing there.”


Sowbugs and spiders,

Salamanders and song sparrows.

Solomon’s seal, spignet,  Sambucus.

Skunks and skinks.

Sanicle, ‘sang, Sanguisorba, Sorbus.

Sleep site of ursine sow.

Squirrels of every sort. Sirtalis.

Scrub pine, scrub oak, squirrel corn.

Sweet gum, sour gum, sour grass, sweet grass.

Sweet flag, sweetbriar, sweet fern,

Sweet Cicely, sourwood. Starwort.

Sarvis, stitchwort, spiderwort, swallowtails,

Spicebush, sumac and sycamore.

Shaggy manes, shrews, solitary bees.

Sky skimming swifts and scaly skittering swifts.

Silver-haired bats in shagbark shelters.

Spleenwort in sweet soil. Selaginella,

Sharpshin and shrubby St. Johnswort.

Snowbirds and sometimes siskins,

Snowshoe hares and spruce.

Shiners, salmonids, sculpins and sunfish,

Striders, sideswimmers.

Soft-shell, stinkpot, snapper.

Somatochlora, stoneflies, synurella.

Salix, streamsides, shorelines, sandspits.

Sandpipers, shitepoke and snipe.

Sulphurs, Strymon, skippers, sphinx moths.

Sorrel, stonecrop, sparrow hawks.

Snowberry, strawberry, sassafras, sarsparilla.

Sphagnum, sundew, steeplebush, sedges.

Slate slab, sandstone sculpture, shale slope,

Shield ferns, Silphium, screech owls.

Seeps, springs, swamps, spring peepers.

Soughs, sinks, stalagtites, stalagmites.

Smartweed, smokebush, silverrod, snails.

So many more.

Sunset serenity. Sunrise serenade.

So much more.


“Well,”  they said.

“There’s nothing there that matters.  We’ll put it there.”


Scared away –

Scattered, separated, stressed, starved.

Shoved away –

Snapped, split, shattered.

Scraped away –

Smashed and smothered.


“Well,”  I said.

“Finally, they’re right. There’s nothing there.”


Stripped bare, smoothed out.

Shade and shadow banished.



Silent sterile soil.



The Inspiration

This poem has been in the Voicebefore, in March, 2015.  It is well worth repeating.  The inspiration for including it again came from this note from a reader:


Dear Highlands Conservancy,

With the passing of Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver on Jan. 17, nature poetry has been much in the news.  So I want to tell you that the very best nature poem I have ever read—it is framed and hanging on my bookshelf—appeared in The Highlands Voiceby Marion Harless called “Nothing There.” Just the letter S!  So much there!  And the poet doesn’t tell how to feel . . .  just lets us see and smell and hear and feel ourselves.  Brilliant.

Thanks, Meryl Hall