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             for Ben
             (after a southeast U.S. trek I had taken with a botanist
             to visit the only known site of this rarest of forest herbs)

             cicadas     at highest sun
             two kilometers in,
             crashing redbud  blackjack oak
             the sky          a green dome
             heartland of old piedmont
             few of these forests  left
             felled to        bunchers
             planted to       pine
             those swift-growing
               sterile rows

             up ancient slopes
             the continental tilts of
             warps and folds
             along the lime and seams
             of oceans pressed to coal
             long before this georgia,
             this nation,
             before all the previous nations

             snap of branch in face
             returns me to my next step
             each gathering deeper folds
             each a history of ancient forest
             oldest mountains worn
             by ceaseless cycles

             we finally rest under wings
             of elm, hickory, cedar,
             striped maples with goosefoot leaf
             sweat blurring vision
             slurping the thick oxygen-rich swamp-
             air    here
             at sea bottom
             horsefly    slow and heavy
             in the ebb tide

             the forest service botanist
             pads his brow    genuflects     and
             parts the leaves of lowest foliage
               and there
             like tiny green graves
             seven, maybe eight
             minute plants,
             the entire known population
             green masts with miniature sails
             frozen in surf of deep hardwood duff
               dried leaves   potter's steaming humus
               greenhouse sauna of forest floor,

               only these -
             known population -
             "small-whorled pagonia"
             utterly fragile papyrus scrolls
             of some tertiary time of
             cycads and tree ferns,
             foot-wide dragonflies
             these specks of life
             utterly inconsequential
             these genetic messengers
             through all those millennia
             one careless act seals the caves
             a boot, tire, horse,
             drag one log, set one fire,
             an entire civilization          extinct

             this   land stewardship
             is but to protect our home
               from ourselves
             keepers of life forms
             entire ancient lineages
             a stem, cotyledon, frail seed,
             a few rootlets in loose duff
             - entire plant societies
             what lessons for perseverance,
             survival, commission through
             all the harsh centuries,
               the botanist
             drops to his belly,
             carefully, compassionately adjusting the
               small foil tags naming each stem,
             not a god   he
             nor storekeeper
             nor scientist
             it strikes me    in this sweltering green,
             a lover          jealously tending
                    the sick bed
               counting the wounds
               or the children left
                    after the pogroms
             foster-god  demi-father
             on all fours
                    the wolf-mother
               ears perked
                    for ratchet of chain
                    and feller whine
             these children
               are twelve thousand years old!
               their own ancestor!

             cicada-whine in furnace
             not a stir  in the leaf-clouds
             and these frail green threads
               that trail into dim pasts
               we can never know -
             are not          us

             - bruce g marcot
             - 9/95

Photo above ©Bruce G. Marcot.  I cheated here.  This isn't a photo of the forest where the small-whorled pagonia plant is found in the forests of southeast U.S. ... it's actually a tropical rainforest canopy in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

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