It happened in northern Louisiana, just south of the Arkansas border.
We were staying at an older colleague’s lake house; a nineteenth-century
Colonial that had been purchased in 1991 for five thousand dollars
(not a joke) and moved piecemeal (one truckload at a time)
from the city of Ruston to Lake D’Arbonne –
The steep trail down to the lake -- really a man-made swamp
Louisianans call a Bayou – rife with snakes and snapping
turtles -parting a line along the surface scum and murky reeds --
was protected and arced by Sugarberry trees and Shumard
Oaks – their rounded, open crowns so high up from my position;
light grey smooth bark pock-marked with corky warts.
With my back so long on the cold damp moss, my limbs,
my core, my head seemed to float along, at a loss –
the clouds moved gently along in the too- blue sky,
and it was hard to tell how far away the birds were;
at what distance I was from the tiny, six-petalled yellow
flowers: I had to reach my arm up, excruciatingly –
hold it between my finger and crush it to smell the citrus –
and to know what it was I was up against.
You ask me: What does it mean when I say that I was
overwhelmed by the Sassafras?
(Sassafras Albidum: Aromatic tree or thicket-forming shrub with various shaped leaves
and narrow, spreading crown of short, stout branches. Height: 30-60’)
I was, you know, completely overcome.
So much so that I go back again and again to extract the safrole
(“cinnamon wood” “saloop”) ---
not just to gain confidence and imagine an affection in the universe,
but because the quickened heart rate, the sweat, the blood pumping vigorously through each vein
reminded me that I had not died
I did not expire
I did not mulch into the forested path.
After the incident I began practicing my Southern Hospitality –
(after all, it seemed only fitting).
I baked buttery breads and cheesy casseroles,
- not just for special events -
for neighbors for months for the dead for the alive but buried
On my body
I have stenciled elliptical, blueish -black marks,
like delicious, just out of reach berries,
inches from my face--
in their red cups on their long red stalks –
they continue to assault me.