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).