Swamp’s Sentinels

Here’s another of Melissa’s poems that she read at the recent Poetry with Wings event at the NC Botanical Garden (paired with some of my images from our trips on the Roanoke River) …

Swamp’s Sentinels
by Melissa Dowland

Bald Cypress along Conaby Creek

In the blackwater swamp
The creeks are lined
With cypress-sentinels
Left whole by the loggers—
Because they were too hard to reach?
Or perhaps, intentionally left,
with great foresight
to remind us of what once was?
The swollen bases are buttressed
and surrounded by their subjects—
Knees, barely poking above the dark surface.

Huge cypress along Gardner Creek

These trees have seen decades, centuries—
Wild times, when they were left alone
They’ve seen the river become
a highway
They’ve seen
and me, in my canoe.

Bald cypress pair in black and white

They are not tall—
Their crowns flattened by
the wind of innumerable hurricanes.
Their sprawling branches
covered in resurrection fern—
they who need no resurrection to live for centuries.

TRee cavities

And everywhere—

Prothonotary Warbler singing at nest cavity 1

Some so large I could crawl inside
Some just right for a chickadee,
or a prothonotary warbler
who brings such song to these solemn swamps!

Screech owl in wood duck box close up 1

 What lurks inside these hollow
Monarchs of the Swamp?
Were I to knock, what might I see?
The dark fur of the bear
who could smell me from a mile away?
The sharp face of the screech owl,
ready to pull back and hide in a second?
The secreted nest of the prothonotary,
cloaking her bright yellow in
the cavity’s darkness?

Bald Cypress along Conaby Creek 1

Or are these holes
Simply the eyes of the trees?
Windows into their ancient souls?
Tired eyes that have gazed
down the years,
Longing to be left at peace
for yet another hundred years?

14 thoughts on “Swamp’s Sentinels

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