William Bartram Triptych

Late 18th-century American naturalist

I. Postcard to Bartram

Karla Linn Merrifield

Dear Willy,

You old, romantic son-of-a-gun, you!
Seducing me as you once did
Coleridge and Wordsworth,
laying it on thick with
your eighteenth-century charm.
How florid of you to woo me
with visions of lustrous Florida,
to lure me with lavish exotic tongue.
I swoon to your streams of Latin,
your luscious prose.

This plain is mostly a forest
of long-leaved pine, P. palustris,
interspersed with an infinite variety
of herbaceous plants, and embellished
with extensive savannas, always green,
sparkling with ponds of water,
ornamented with clumps of evergreen,
and other trees and shrubs, as
Magnolia grandiflora, Magnolia glauca,
Gordonia, Illex aquifolium…*

Thus, I read your Travels,
Dover Edition, © 1928.
I confess: I fall in love.

Yours truly, kindly,
XO*p. 52

II. Missive to Bartram

Karla Linn Merrifield

Hark, Puc Puggy! My dearest Flower Hunter,

How apt the name the Alachua gave you!
Ere you stride across the centuries to Florida,
to me, with stave in hand to fend off
wolves and panthers on my behalf,
I feel compelled to scrawl these warning lines.

Fear not for wolves—your Canus lupus is
long gone, extirpated. Your subtropical feline
of the coryii subspecies is not gone, but going;
seventy, at most eighty, now exist.
What an elysium it is, you wrote. Not so, friend.
The woeful truth is: We count your myriad creatures;
we put their names and populations on a list
labeled Endangered; we display their images
on posters emblazoned Extinct.

That tortoise called gopher? Endangered.
That species of jayof azure blue color,
my heart throb of a scrub jay? Also endangered.
Your open forest of stately pines (Pinus palustris)—
reduced to scattered remnants,
pinpoints on forest service survey maps.
And your watery nations and finny tribes?
Overfished, poisoned, silted in, in waters
drawn as faded red streams on river charts
like a cadaver’s arteries post autopsy.

All cheerful and gay all nature appears.
Sweet William, the Sunshine State is
a locus moribund; your universal vibration of life
but a northbound jet screaming above
your savanna, what we call Paynes Prairie,
a vast preserved grassland, alas dying of thirst.

Because you mayn’t wish to see Florida deflowered,
my Willy, please to not feel obligated
to prosecute your journey. I will understand.
I am loathe to disappoint, or worse.

With utmost affectionate concern, I remain,

Your devoted K.

III. Telegram to Bartram

OK. Come TMRW.
Can promise P palustrus.
W/ luck Picoides borealis.
Grove @ confluence:
Ochlockonee & Dead R.
6 mi inland fr. Forgotten Coast.
Bring unabridged ms.
Have publisher 4 U.
Combo deal—
my poems + our story.
I await.

Karla Linn Merrifield

If we are to survive, we must commune with the dead, whether human or nonhuman. We can hear them if we just listen. This poem is a communion with one of my saints, William Bartram, the great late-18th-century American naturalist who left a record of the coastal south from Georgia into Florida to show us exactly what we have lost. Using three forms of communication, a postcard, a missive, and a telegram, I write “Willy” in anticipation of our reunion across time and the life-death continuum. I foreground the natural environment which he and I share (I reside half-time in Florida).

About the Author

An eight-time Pushcart-Prize nominee and National Park Artist-in-Residence, Karla Linn Merrifield has had some 450 poems appear in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has ten books to her credit, the newest of which are Lithic Scatter and Other Poems (Mercury Heartlink) and Attaining Canopy: Amazon Poems (FootHills Publishing). Forthcoming from Salmon Poetry is Athabaskan Fractal and Other Poems of the Far North. Her Godwit: Poems of Canada (FootHills) received the Eiseman Award for Poetry and she recently received the Dr. Sherwin Howard Award for the best poetry published in Weber — The Contemporary West. She has edited three anthologies, including The Dire Elegies: 59 Poets on Endangered Species of North America (FootHills). She is assistant editor and poetry book reviewer for The Centrifugal Eye (www.centrifugaleye.com), a member of the board of directors of Just Poets (Rochester, NY), and a member of the New Mexico State Poetry Society, the Florida State Poetry Society, and TallGrass Writers Guild. Visit her blog, Vagabond Poet, at http://karlalinn.blogspot.com.

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