Pacific Yew

Pacific Yew
I was once paid
To survey Yew trees
In Old Growth forests
In Oregon near Crater Lake
Mammoth Douglas fir & White fir
Covered the landscape, rolling sides
Of Mountains, the Yew were generally
In wet areas, crevices of creeks
They grew as attendant soldiers to the large conifers
Only the fifty to sixty feet the oldest of them
Lining the feeder streams that stretched downward
To Creeks that all ran to the Rogue River
The surrounding clearcuts were littered with their
Brothers & sisters as they were sexed male & female
Into large piles to be burned as unmerchantable
In Canada they made them into beautiful
hardwood flooring, after closing a bar in
British Columbia I was drinking beer
At a timber faller’s home & complemented
him on his floor as it was gorgeous red hues
& Blond running throughout the lengths of the boards,
& I asked him what kind of wood
It was, as I had installed wood floors
for about as brief a time as I had logged,
“THAT,” he said, as he waved his Molson,
“Is Canadian Yew wood!”
& he said it as if it came from the Queen herself
The females have tiny red berries
but were no different in appearance
Then the males, but that they were
dioeciously conifers with separate sexes
Was something that seemed an oddity,
yews were generally few & far
Between but in the right conditions
they would form stands that followed
The creeks downhill & appeared
as un-uniformed limby
Gnarly red barked ever green twisted
with holes & grown
Over defects that were as old as
the tall Douglas fir. their large
European counter parts were used as chapels
By early European Christians
who took them from
Pagan worshipers that found their otherworldly
Appearance in deep forest
to be contingent with forested
& I who had formerly spent
My short forestry career in clearcuts
where all this had been raped,
Well, the three weeks I spent with
Yews, kind of sealed this notion
That yes, this separate place
was an amalgam
of earth, with a presence
All its own, we were surveying Yew
because its bark had been found
To be a cure for breast & ovarian cancer,
the worry at the time was
That we had cut too much of it
& the need for it for medicine would
Be its demise in a few short years
Notwithstanding the fact we’d burned up
More than was left as “trash wood”
perhaps every incurable disease has
Its counterpart, the European Yew were almost wiped out
because of its prize as the commodity for long bows,

this is really more understandable
Rather than the overuse because it was “just in the way,” the tidy up
of D-8 cats & the ever present need to & burn the left over’s

so, we could entertain
The notion of growing back trees like corn that
had in a elegant fashion been growing to cure
The beloved’s—the grandmother’s,
the mothers, the young women whose
Lives were to come into an age of
life out of balance
All of us reductionist drones
that in corporate discounting of the lovely,
& the obscure
Into spreadsheets & bottom lines
while the checkerboard square clearcuts
Of Pacific Northwest took away
the great bands of yew & the spotted
Owls—who were never seen
as created harbingers of loveliness,
& health & the sure goodness of answers
to all our problems.

from Black Ice & Fire: Poems by James Ross Kelly