Kim Vanderlaan

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

(like me).

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.