Katrina’s Trees, 2005

The day out my window
is drained of hue, washed
grey with an arch of clouds

carrying the embryo of a
storm and a summons
to the season that fills me

with equal parts longing
and grief. Cottonwoods bend
and breathe deep and ragged

under the wind’s insistent
touch. I cannot help wondering
what they are saying.

I heard today that
New Orleans’ live oaks, each
with a name recorded in a

ledger that seems to have
had its inception long before
The South itself, are submerged

and dying in troughs of toxic
water. The lone human member
of the Society of Live Oaks whose

job it is to tend and testify to
her ancient charges spoke of
their awesome lives and imminent

deaths with a break in her
voice. It seems that, on nights heavy
with jasmine and beating with the

pulse of the southern centuries,
these trees had much to say
to any wanderer far below,

and the woman swore in a soft and
arresting timbre that they’d
always spoken to her —

Old Survivor.
Sweet Susanna.
Seven Sisters Oak.

I close my eyes the better to
inhale the sibilant susurrus
of such ageless names.

Here, where accelerating plains
collide against blue granite and
a cataclysm of sky, trees don’t

seem to count for much, and when
they do, it’s with a dizzying
brilliance that passes so swiftly

as to seem a dream. But the
silent, horrific death of the
oaks in Louisiana gives

me pause today, and I hope to
pass those adolescent groves of
aspens, that gangly cottonwood

on the corner of my street
springing out of the stop-sign
base, with a little more attention.

Maybe tonight, they will list
Shy and murmuring
syllables telling of the heady

weightlessness of high-desert
youth. Maybe tonight they
will tell me their names.

Whispering Jessie.
Dust-in-the-Wind.
Prairie Brother.
Young Will.