Culch, culture—they share a catch

at the vowel’s end, one the hard

bed where oysters attach, the other

intangible, impossible to set

or steady.  Before he can culture,

spread the culch, the oysterman needs

certainty, a lease, its value

gauged by gradient above area:

the raindrops’ aggregate, the river

pulses out, stream, lake, the words taste

sweet, while ocean is luscious with brine.

Oysters mark the margin in between.

Ordinary, estuary, a word that swirls

with tide and current. Hudson, Chesapeake—

how does this littered place still grow them?

The oysterman, salt’s sentinel,

tastes first the rising sea; decline flavors

his crop, opens the bay to ocean, yet

returned, restored, the river would

push the brackish band south from his bed,

the house he has raised, rebuilt, his dock, 

the culch he has hauled and spread. 

Dredge, ice, sort, ship, shuck, each verb

a livelihood.  Continent, continuant,

a consonant stretching as long

as its breath.  In New Orleans

the uptown restaurant places one,

fried, on each patron’s salad plate, so rich

delicious declines a half-life each bite.



City Park, New Orleans

The seasons so subtle, only cypress

Shift.  Gray giants in February gray:

Their inundated swamp long solid,

Their lower branches aged by epiphyte,

Each crown blunted by an unnamed storm.   

I walk a year’s long circle between them.

Theirs is spring’s one new verdancy,

An edge that feathers into summer shade. 

They will burn brown orange, branchlets falling

Like feathers from a pheasant, dressed.

Crenate skirt, knobby knees, as if the dead,

Uneasy, adjusting, flattened their backs. 

But look up.  They are tasseled with blossom. 





You arrive to the constructed thicket

naked, head heavy, eyes hooded, brooded,

without your own warmth.  Twigs and stalks, darkness

that blues to gray to brilliant white, light

unscattered, the beam almost tangible,

it darkens only with a parent’s care.

You press together, then reach up, up, up,

open, open, again and again.

The light grays to blue to black, warm, muffled,

beyond a chant unintelligible

rises, subsides, rises, subsides.

The orbit underlies the chorus.

Up, open, open, again and again                                                                    

until the brightness holds, and, voracious,

one goes up, pauses, steadies, shadows

and then vanishes, leaving light, absence.

The next, the next, and you are alone

to pick your way up, pause, extend your head

out to a world variegated with green.             

The reds are languorous, the violets

unimaginable, the air upwelling.

No other choice, by necessity,

alone but following, open your wings,

not quite rising, not quite falling.


Elizabeth Davey has directed the environmental sustainability programs at Tulane University in New Orleans for many years. A graduate of Cornell University’s MFA/PhD program, she began working in the campus greening movement while teaching first-year writing at Michigan State University. She has published essays on Sterling A. Brown and Langston Hughes and co-edited Remember My Sacrifice: The Autobiography of Clinton Clark, Tenant Farm Organizer and Early Civil Rights Activist (Louisiana State University Press, 2007).