Karla Linn Merrifield – Four Poems

September 17, 1862: Of Antietam’s 23,000, Its Youngest

Charley King,
drummer boy,
thirteen,
his heart,
beats slaughtered.

**

Embedded Roots

In my bodily frame at fifty-four
I unwrap indelible stamps of
my lowly origin:
smudges of coal dust,
a swampful of memories
in bituminous compression;
black stuff beneath my nails
like primordial mud under edge
of plastron and scutes—
of similar material, horn-hard.
Remove my cranium, probe my brain
on this birthday of mine and find:
turtle remains. I’ve been a long
time swimming to this date.
Since before the orogeny
of the Appalachian Mountains
in Earth’s deep chronology,
since I was a hick-kid in West Virginia,
a sea of years ago in human time,
I’ve not changed much.
The present is opened.
Not the tome of Darwin’s
collected works, not a memoir
of faith, not a field guide
to the fauna of my home state,
not any of the books given me this day,
but my own story received
as a creature of the coal,
hewn from the same seam—
one pelagic reptile’s cooled gleaming eye.

**

The Cure

Vitality for the mind.  Sanctuary for the soul.
—Sanibel Public Library slogan

I seat you in this rocking chair
in this library on this island,
away from the clogged causeway,
away from Periwinkle Way’s high
season of tourist traffic. On a screened
balcony overlooking a small, still lake
with lily pads and white fluted blooms
you may recover. I have led you here
like a tubercular to his sanitarium to rest
from inner fatigue, cough up your soul
sickness, take the sun like white ibis,
the taller white egrets, snowy and great.
Other patrons will seek a station named Bali or Capri
(here the Internet ports of call are all exotic isles).
Or survey the sale table for Darwin’s
Voyage of the Beagle for seventy-five cents.
Or scan newsweeklies for the latest scuttlebutt
on creationism in public schools. But you
I ask to settle in for the long stare of a poet
for whom the white breast of an osprey is enough
to clean the mind of second thoughts, or first ones.

**

Elegy for a Boardwalk of Pinus strobus

I am going into retirement now.
Nothing unusual, I am just pine,
soft white pine, and I am tired.
I am also warped and splintered.
And I am just plain old.  Old.
I can’t really remember where
exactly I came from in Georgia,
what acre of Blue Ridge forest,
or who it was chopped me down,
nor that logger’s name.  Could
not tell you which mill took me
from treehood to board feet
of timber, which railroad steamed
me to a Northern lumber yard.
I’d like to remember the hands
that built of me this boardwalk
through this wetland verge where
I was settled in to stay, rooted,
sturdied in a crafty way by men now
long dead.  I’m just too old to say.
So all I need is a few more years
to sink into these Yankee woods
for good. Let me now decompose,
grow leafy fungi, grow curly
lichen all over my weathered,
knotty planes.  Let spiders take over
my joints and crevasses. Allow me
to nurse cushions of moss.  Yes, sir,
I’d like to go towards sawdust
with some shade of quiet green.
For, old as I am—so very old—
I remember the green, all my green.

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