BY BRION KEAGLE
Oh such a day
Dawns bright and blue
Upon this Witness Tree.
And verdant emerald
‘ere emerald cease to be.
I stand deep rooted
Proud and tall
Amidst a field of grass
Sibling of the sea of green
Yet all alone, alas.
My chosen spot
Their chosen spot
The center of a cross of stone
Where once a lofty forest stood
I now stand alone.
And thus have stood for many years
Since I was but a whip
And this my duty
This my pride
In silent witness stand
An arbiter, a placeholder
A boundary of land.
Two hundred times I’ve felt the warm
Spring sun’s first kiss upon my bough
Two hundred times my timbers shivered
In November’s early snow.
Scrawled in sap upon my bark
A hundred eighty summers past
Two lovers’ names inside a heart
I promised to hold fast.
They knelt within my shady bower
In sweet red clover and oxeye flower
And swore their love would last.
Then in the glade that I had made
Her hand in his was softly laid
And in the dappled moonlight
Of a thousand leafy boughs
I alone did witness
Their softly spoken vows.
Then sons and daughters many came
And many times I bore their names
I bore the pain
Of whittling knife
But did not weep nor run
Each scar I now bear proudly
For each acclaims in scripture loudly
“This tree here… this one!”
I held them safe as one by one
Hand over foot to see the sun
From the top of the canopy.
I stretched each branch
Unfurled each leaf
Held my shield aloft
To intercept each golden ray
That underneath the young might play
On the grass so green and soft
While blankets were set and meals prepared
In the rising month of May.
On a sturdy branch a swing was hung
On summer days they often swung
Till sleep would overtake them
And in a while the whistling wind
Through my leaves would gently wake them.
And every autumn when the nights grew longer
And the beckoning of slumber stronger
Drew the sap deep underground
My tired mantle lost its grip
And from my grasp each leaf would slip
Till scattered all around
Piles they made
And in them laid
With rustling bustling sound.
And so the years passed by until
One moved away to another home
And another left and another still
Many winters I stood alone
Forgotten in the swirling snow
And in the summers no more the cattle
Would graze in the fields below
And the pasture kept in lush green sod
Was overgrown with goldenrod.
Only then did they come back
But not as children once again
But careworn women
Each one dressed in black
A hole was dug in that same bower
Among the red clover and oxeye flower
And one was laid to rest.
As time passed by they all came back
To rest among their kin
And a garden of granite headstones
Grew where once they’d been.
And I again embraced them all
Deep beneath the ground
So deep that they’ll never feel
The icy fingers of frost
Nor scorching sun
Where memory is lost
There cradled in my nest of roots
Woven all around.
And now my own days decline
The vulture roosts on barren limb
For I have not the strength nor will
To shake a leaf at him
The moss overtakes me, the woodpecker is
My newest, dearest friend
He cleans my wounded branches
And he grooms me for the end.
One day soon when the ice rains cold
And clings with ponderous girth
I’ll join the host of spirits old
And topple to the Earth
I’ll take with me my memory
Ever grateful I shall be
Glad that I was…
…A Witness Tree.