The Understory

Jennifer Atkinson

The sycamore doesn’t lean riverward.
It leans toward the light over the river,
Shading an understory beneath its green,
Daunting the aster, guarding the fern,
Cooling the water alongside, waters
One week raucous with parking-lot run-off,
The next nearly stagnant. Slow or quick,
The current undercuts the sycamore’s bank,
Leaves gravel trapped around its roots.

And the sycamore leans further, tipped
Like an open drawbridge. Already

It’s picked up the river’s accent,
That slurred drawl, those schwa-flat vowels.
It’s falling into the rhythm, accepting
the ethic of onwardness. Only we will miss
The leaning tree when it finally falls.
Its birds will choose another to light on,
Deer will take its downed leaves,
Asters will star in the light of its absence.
Though ferns will parch, fish will profit.

And the river will flow under,
Over, forward, around its trunk, almost as before.