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Karla Linn Merrifield


“Groping for the Spirit”

In memoriam — Archie Carr, 1909-1987

Welcome to the vaulted rooms
of Southern woods,
of primordial
gloom, illuminated
Oh, most influential flora
in the Southeastern landscape,
most widespread,
most distinctive!
Yes, Tillandsia usneoides—
no moss at all—but finest drapery
of epiphyte enchantment.
No, not a parasite
despite its gothic demeanor, but
a most abundant bromeliad.
Pineapple cousin, orchid sister,
of tiniest greenish-yellow blooms,
faintly sweetens quiet nights.
Note frosting of minute pointy scales
—nutrient-snatching dust catchers—
effective chlorophyll mask.
Observe if you can
feathery floating seeds
windblown far and wide across
Not a plant apart
but live oaks’ boon companion,
festooning those bishop trees.
None too picky, either:
partial to cypress too—
silver gowns for swamp owls.
Forest’s bella senorita
like a mermaid coifed in seaweed
tosses wind-combed tresses.
Shimmying to languorous drums,
paleo-Indian  girl
swivels her hips
in mossy skirts.
Did Tumucuan mothers
once cushion their cradles
—and babies’ graves—
with “Spanish moss?”
Never a simple species
to name:  barbe en Français,
beard of the enemy.
Not inappropriately as well
called by conquistadors peluca francesca,
enemy’s wig, por favor.
No longer upholstery
and horse collar stuffing,
stuff for cordage—
frizzly, black, stringy.
Nor by any means
forlorn gray curtains
once worth six cents a pound.
Take mud, mix in dat moss,
git good walls for dem slave shanties.
Wise women, shamans found
it useful for edema, hemorrhoids,
the weak of heart.
She remembers the last voices of
ivory-billed woodpecker,
Carolina parakeet,
passenger pigeon.
She recalls dire wolves
gone like ancient aborigines
to the Great Hunting Ground.
Above, she espies
introspective spadefoot frogs’
spare nocturnal activity:
one hop, maybe two.
A few braids
as finishing touches
—shag carpeting—
for cozy swallowtail kite nests.
Three bat species
soften their sleeping crannies
with it in caves, on limbs.
She studies rat snakes,
coral snakes scaling branches
for flightless newborn flying squirrels.
But look all you might;
you won’t find any
biting chiggers, ticks, mites.
Untangle now
these filigreed strands;
find within this ubiquitous botanical
poetry’s rara flora.



Karla Linn Merrifield is poetry editor of Sea Stories, and has published in such publications as CALYX, Earth's Daughters, The Kerf, and Elegant Thorn Review. She edited The Dire Elegies: 59 Poets on Endangered Species of North America (FootHills Publishing, 2006) and her newest book of poems is Godwit: Poems of Canada (FootHills Publishing, 2008). She recently held her first one-woman photographic-poetry exhibit, with accompanying chapbook, and teaches writing at SUNY College at Brockport.

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