In verse: Maine places and people


Produced by Maine Poetry Central and Dennis Camire

This week’s poem by Valerie Lawson of Robbinston explores the intimate and sacred craft of building birch-bark canoes.


Birch Bark, Spruce Root

For David Moses Bridges

By Valerie Lawson


If you don’t find what you need, 


dig deeper, pry the bark open,

unearth the roots, let them coil 

in ribbons at your feet. 


Handle the knife carefully, test 

the steel. Tease the layers apart,  

follow the grain, cut the heart-wood 

out, the scent seeps into your fingers.


Breathing new life into bark is risky, 

it has spirit, demands respect. 

Join the seams with spruce root — 

if it breaks in the middle, begin again. 


Elastic when wet, bound like iron 

when dry, the leather-sound squeaks 

speak of boundaries. Bear fat and pine-

pitch seals, signature fiddleheads celebrate craft.


We don’t master this, it suffers our crude hands. 

Birch tree will grow another coat, spruce send out new roots.

The canoe will glide on the bay wearing the eyes of the forest. 

We understand the death in life and life in death of this art.


Dennis Camire can be reached at [email protected]