White Cedar


It rises in a Champaign County bog
Amid bedstraw and skunk cabbage,
Rises out there in an ice age
River valley gorged with glacial till,
And swills the moraine-filtered rainwater
With the wafer ash and honeysuckle.
Stalwart, set apart, and biblical — 
As if one of that ancient company
That gave its coniferous canonical body
To the tent that shuttled God
Through the wilderness.

They say that cedar and cypress
Are the protectors of  bones.
You see them from the freeway, standing alone,
Statuesque and serious,
In the dead middle of and vigilant
In beanfields, where farmers used to plant
Their families.

Who are you like in your greatness?
Consider a cedar of Lebanon, with fair boughs
And forest shade, and of great height,
Its top among the clouds.

I wonder what bones it watches over,
What chalk-dry remains its roots
Break alkali to act as epitaph for.

The mastodon that grazed this sedge?
Sloth? All the Methuselahs
Unearthed if the fen were dredged?

Behemoth and Leviathan?
I’ve always dreamt I came from old dirt,
Antediluvian, ground titans moved on,

Died on. What colossal flanks
And shoulders chafed its trunk — 
This ancient boreal sentinel that sinks

To taste this modest Ohio plot,
As if lisping a high tongue to accommodate
My low limestone argot?

I won’t leave this place today,
Not without a draft of the old beast breath
Engrafted in each down-soft spray.

Each bottomless chip of  bark.
The secret is: even before the ax flies
You have an ark.

More Poems by Jake Crist