The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Kirk Swearingen



                              for R. F.

While waiting on you, I turned to the trees
all around me on the drive, scrutinizing
their bark and how vastly different it was

from one species to another. I took
photos, tight close-ups, with my phone,
and tried to find the right words to describe

the variform skins of trees, young and old.
This one was plate-like, this other scaly,
another ridgey—all wore their armor

distinctively, like prideful, silent knights.
I recalled that young trees have light, smooth skin,
which darkens and cracks or splits with old age;

one must look hard to perceive the old elm
in the young, for, like us, they are callow,
have not inured themselves against the world.

The mocker nut hickory's bark, which my book
describes as "broken by rough, corky, braided
ridges that appear as if sand-papered";

the mottled, flaking bark of the sycamore,
beneath which I have always seen entrapped
a white horse slowly breaking free its bonds;

the bald cypress's bark shredding to reveal
seeming Dutch affinities; the tulip
tree's fissures make a rough topography;

the old black cherry's bark—the handsomest
and the most improbable—looking as if
a drunken chef made use of a frosting knife.

These and others I could not identify
I examined and photographed for later
study, hoping to end my ignorance,

which will end, in any case, one fine day.
I made a joke to myself that the trees
are every bit as different as people,

but trees are different species; people, one.
Yet they seem to get along together
better than we can ever come to manage.

Perhaps strong, silent types are the answer.




KIRK SWEARINGEN's poems have been published in The Edge City Review, MARGIE, Delmar, and The American Journal of Poetry. Kirk co-founded, with poet George Fortier, The Project, a writers' group, now in its 22nd year. He lives in Webster Groves, Mo., with his wife, Jyll.



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