Bio Note: Can’t help it, I’m drawn to mountains and a more hardscrabble way of life. I grew up in Maryland at the foot of Appalachian ridges, spent (and still spend) summers in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Now I live in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California among deer and redwoods and the occasional lion.
Memory of Moss
Through dense forest she guides me to a wall of stones piled waist-high, boulders lifted by black hands in a land of white winters. Caleb a slave escaped Virginia to the Adirondacks, cleared 40 acres of northern jungle axing tree, rolling rock, ton upon ton. Caleb, her ancestor. In my whiteness she wants me to understand. In my infatuation, I try. Caleb scratched out a living no child would endure. Slavery, they said, would be easier. Not better, but warmer and less work. It was family legend, a bitter family joke. Abandoned fields reverted to birch, to maple, then finally to conifer, the natural crop. Boreal rainforest seems untouched if not for this soft-spoken wall. She swears she can hear slice of axe, grunt of ox, echoes of great-great-great grandpappy Caleb. In these crevices she can sniff smears of his sweat, stains of his blood. Stones break loose, tumble among duff. “Roots topple walls,” she says touching my hand. Shooing a lizard she gathers bits of moss to stack in a jar like little green toupees, to carry back to the dirt road, the SUV, the long easy drive to the suburbs.
Originally published in Freshwater
Midwives tell us birth is natural, not medical. A deer in the forest has no midwife. Let us make no judgment but this doe died mid-birth, this doe in this ditch sprawled on its side in cookie-cutter position with belly chewed open, entrails scattered around the half-born babe, tawny-speckled head and shoulders in daylight as if leaping from the squeezing womb, eyes open to flies while the hind legs, the damp tail will wait forever inside. Little fawn, did your leap begin before puma appeared? Had it stalled — was doom foretold? Was your breakout the last reflex of dying muscle? Which began first, birth or attack? And where waits the soul? We protect mountain lions from hunters in these redwoods and yes, we need to control the deer population. And the human. Probably one crouched cougar watches right now from the bushes nearby, guarding the kill. They rarely speak, these felines, in silence they hunt to feed their cubs, in natural splendor they commit murder and abortion though they wouldn’t call it such and neither should we, at least not among lions but oh mother, oh fawn.
Originally published in The Wild Word
©2021 Joe Cottonwood
Editor's Note: If this poem(s) moves you please consider writing to the author (email address above) to say what it is about the poem you like. Writing to the author is what builds the community at Verse Virtual. It is very important. -JL