Ghost Forest

by Jack B. Bedell

—Manchac, after Frank Relle’s photograph, “Alhambra”


Backlit by city and refinery’s glow
       these cypress bones shimmer

on the still lake’s surface.
       It’s easy to see a storm’s

coming with the sky rolling
       gray overhead and the water

glass-calm. Even easier to know
       these trees have weathered 

some rough winds, their branches 
       here and there, pointing this

a-way and that at what 
       we’ve done to this place.

Their trunks gather here
       like hoary, Old Testament prophets

come down from the mountain
       to rest in this body dump,

gold light hitting the moss
       all Luminol-shine and whisper.


Water’s the only thing
       that gets in here easily, pushed

in by storms or poured
       through spillway gates.

Years of its salt has loosened
       the coast line’s faith, turned

forest to roots and sawgrass,
       constant loss. This water

rises, seeps, leaves doubt
       everywhere dirt should be.

It’s not worth lying down
       in the hull of your boat

to scrape under the rail trellis
       if you’re only coming here

to see what used to be. Do it
       so you can hear the ghost forest

sing about what’s coming next
       after the water’s had its way.


What is moss if it isn’t
       memory? It hangs off these branches,

sways on the breeze like Merton’s 
       prayers, the closest these trees 

will get to needles again. Everything else
       here is dead still, waiting for the storm

to blow in. No frog bellow,
       no heron flap—just moss

waving and the water’s slow rise
       to prove this place breathes.

Stillness is faith, locust’s whine
       benediction here, and this moss

knows all there is to know
       about holding on, and air,

and how fully empty time is
       with all this water aching

to fill it. Trunks. Branches.
       Sky bruising into storm.

JACK B. BEDELL is Professor of English and Coordinator of Creative Writing at Southeastern Louisiana University where he also edits Louisiana Literature and directs the Louisiana Literature Press. Jack’s work has appeared in Southern ReviewBirmingham Poetry ReviewPidgeonholes, The ShoreCotton XenomorphOkay DonkeyEcoTheoThe HopperTerrainKissing Dynamite, and other journals. His latest collection is No Brother, This Storm (Mercer University Press, 2018). He served as Louisiana Poet Laureate 2017-2019.

Photo: “Alhambra” by Frank Relle (used with permission)