In the woods this side of Mackinaw
Just south of Lake Superior
—better known by Ojibwa
as Longfellow’s own Gitche Gumee
stands a cedar that remembers
craftsmen building lean canoes
or rains of soot and forest embers
—one by one her brethren fell
while she alone grew wider, taller
branches firm and sure and wise.
“Mother,” saplings came to call her
and deer and elk, young creatures all.
And then the children of the craftsmen
climbed up high; she held them close.
She guarded but could not protect them
from growing up, from growing old.
The shamans say she made entreaty
to the ancient spirit realm
to shield these young from pain and need —she
asked to bind them whole as one.
Now to this day they share her spirit
rooted deep and firm and true,
and if you listen close you’ll hear it:
calls to “Mother,” laughter, too.
It’s said their blood flows deep inside her.
It’s said their giggles fill the air.
It’s said no axmen dare defy her
—many such have disappeared
swallowed whole, if you believe it;
or bound inside, as some have sworn.
It all depends how you perceive it:
the cries and curses breezes share
amidst the laughs and calls to “Mother”
carried from the forest’s heart
so near the shining big sea water
where ancient secrets stand apart.