Sunday, December 29, 2019

Big Poplar, Gone

The Big Poplar, As Corpse

the year declines, and January approaches,
I resist the couch and pull myself up a steep hollow
where valley transforms into slope,
and great trees found a way
to outlast the farms that reached toward them,
I particularly love a large buckeye
that would take two of us to encircle it with our arms,

there at the half-angle base of a rock cliff,
a tulip poplar endured for hundreds of years,
not cut down when all the other nearby great poplars
were felled for houses and lumber,
or just to make way for corn,
its top had been blown out long ago,
and my theory holds that 
its value for wood was thus diminished,
I’d prefer a story of a conscious choice
to preserve a remnant of the Great Woods,

for half a century I’ve visited the Big Poplar,
bringing kids and friends to marvel at it,
to gaze with wonder at its bulk and majesty,
to listen for consciousness within the gestalt of its wholeness,

I’d skip a year between bringing groups for a visit,
for our feet broke stems, tore away moss, increased erosion,
the land needs time to heal from such scrapes,

the Big Poplar, like many of us older folks,
was proud and hanging-in, though a bit tenuously,
three years ago the Great Fire roared over these mountains,
nearby ridges and woods were too dry to resist wind-driven flame,
large trees down the ravine were protected some from the wind 
by being low, and from the fire by being wetter,

the Fire, though, raced up the bark of the Big Poplar,
a good 40 feet into the air, touching the crown,
the year after the Great Fire,
the tree stumbled through a growing season
but could not make it through a second,

the Big Poplar died,

the next year the absence of its crown
allowed a riot of pokeweed at its base,
seeds that might have lain dormant for centuries
sprouted and cluttered the understory,

today, a bit after the third anniversary of the Great Fire,

I visit the corpse of this great tree,
the bark mostly sloughed-off,
and the tree a pillar of white,
still tall and imposing,

now gaunt and haunting me
with the memories of its great presence,
up from the base some bark holds on,
and around the base platters of bark are scattered,
each with only a little curve to it,
for like the Earth, the tree had a circle so big,
that it looked almost flat,

on the trunk where the bark has fallen away,
traceries of weblike root whisper of the fungus
looking for ways to turn death back into life,

sadness settles over me—
amidst the loss in this cold winter,
I remember high summer, and audacity.

by Henry H. Walker
December 26, ‘19

No comments: