BY BRION KEAGLE

Oh such a day

Dawns bright and blue

Upon this Witness Tree.

And verdant emerald

Season’s last

‘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

Wind whipped

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

Somber men

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

Nor wind

Nor rain

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. 

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