Poem of the Week | December 22, 2014
Daniel Corrie: "mantra"
For this Christmas week, we’re delighted to offer a new poem by Daniel Corrie. Corrie’s poems have appeared in The Hudson Review, Kenyon Review, New Criterion, Shenandoah, Southern Review and Terrain.org, among others. A poem of his received The Southwest Review’s first-place 2011 Morton Marr Poetry Prize.
My wife and I are native Southerners who were unaware of what longleaf pine was until after we’d married in our late twenties. I was unaware of that tree that should have stood in my dreams – that tree that should have been a Southerner’s archetypal axis mundi. The richly intricate longleaf pine savannas and slopes once covered 60 percent of my South, ranging from Virginia to Florida to Texas. Lawrence S. Earley wrote (Looking for Longleaf), “Almost all of the old-growth pine forest is gone − perhaps 12,000 acres remain in scattered stands. By any measure, longleaf’s decline of nearly 98 percent is among the most severe of any ecosystem on earth.”
One morning several years ago, I was part of a small Georgia Botanical Society group approved to visit a 200-acre tract of virgin longleaf pine and native understory, a conservation easement closed to the general public. Our group was walking in reverential silence, simply taking in what seemed the old gray and grainy photographs we’d all seen of the vanished Southern forests, now revivified into living green all around us. I didn’t know the middle-aged woman walking beside me, who finally turned to me and said that when she’d been a girl in her Georgia school, she’d been taught about California’s giant redwoods. She asked why she’d never been taught about longleaf and had been left eventually to learn about it on her own. Her life and mine had been vectoring toward coming together in that morning’s group, in that place, in that state of awareness and questioning and caring. It was one more morning available to be meaningful.
Now my wife’s and my house is situated within a dozen acres of surviving longleaf pine and native understory. Such a scrap of land is what conservationists call “a remnant site.” Elsewhere on Ellen’s inherited family farm, we’ve planted 60 acres of longleaf pine and the beginnings of native understory.
Earth needs humankind to learn not to destroy long-evolved natural beauty, which also is our species’ own means of survival. This learning might be our Zeitgeist’s course into collective self-awareness Joanna Macy calls the Great Turning. The ecological-evolutionary context is our context. The natural world is our source through which we finally might come to understand what our actions mean − so I’ve volunteered a full-time year to fighting a proposed coal plant, my wife and I carry out eco restoration on the farm, and I write eco poetry.
I wanted to craft a meaningful mantra.
I wanted it to be a true poem and not merely a statement. Thus, I chose words whose sounds would give it texture in addition to meaning. Too, for its form and feel, I settled on its flowing in three movements, each movement with three accented syllabic beats to evoke formal ritualizing.
now I will feel
force of forests
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