I See God Standing in Stout Grove

by Larina Warnock
Second Place, August 2007
Judged by Deborah Bogen

Here, Heaven appears in bursts of broken sunlight
between treetops swaying with the weight of words;
supplication spirals up from bodies unbent, unkneeling.

Here, faces appear carved in soft red bark, and limbs
stretch earthward as invitations for embrace; gnarled
branches curl like arthritic hands without pain.

Here, seedlings appear along the frames of the fallen;
new trunks rise beside fern and moss over logs lying
prone; roots curl over ancient stumps and both survive.

Here, redwoods appear in clusters; gods grow upon gods,
between gods, within gods–relics of old religions twisting
together in perpetual union, continuous creation.

Beneath these branches, I know why ancients worshipped
trees, why they sought solace in these groves
and found them filled with spirit-tinged whispers.

I remember you from my youth, Lord.
I remember you from a childlike dream.

A poem explaining what Heaven (with a capital H) is that uses a decidedly pagan imagery many would think is opposed to heavenly values is immediately interesting--the poet has something he or she is really thinking about. And this poem makes its inquiry via complicated linguistic turns that add to its complexity, e.g., "Here, redwoods appear in clusters; gods grow upon gods,/ between gods, within gods..." This profusion of little-g gods whose referent is clearly vegetative growth tempts us then to re-read the poem as more pagan. But the poet does not allow this simplification closing with "I remember you from my youth, Lord./ I remember you from a childlike dream." --Deborah Bogen