Stay Close to the Willows

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Is a country way of sayin’

remain near home,

don’t venture far,

keep nearby.

 

Once you embody shadow

under the pine’s umbrella

and grace the riverbank,

turn around, go no farther.

 

A botanical guidepost,

a sinewy, shrubby stop sign.

 

I wish I had a willow now.

 

I wish I had a willow

outside my apartment door,

down the steps, in the courtyard,

on the edge of the sidewalk.

 

A rooted, leggy reminder

to return inside,

distance myself from you.

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Click here to read Tara E. Sturgill on the origin of the poem.

 

Image: “Willow weep for me” by Philip Antar, licensed under CC 2.0.

Tara Sturgill:
There is a line in the movie Winter’s Bone, when the character Ree Dolly informs her aunt of her intent to go looking for her wayward father, Ree’s aunt tells her to “Stay close to the willows, girl” or something akin to it. When I saw that movie, that phrase moved me because of its deep presence in natural observation; most down-home sayings typically boast some profound reflection to prop up commonsense truth. Ree’s aunt is telling her not to stray far, because in the Ozarks where the movie is set, willows are likely hugging the nearest stream, pond, or riverbank because many common species of willow are hydrophytic (water-loving).

As a wetland biologist, I am near bodies of water often. I was on top of the slope near a pond, a somewhat steep slope, and a willow was at the base near the water. I imagined the willow’s slender leaves beckoning me to stop, go no farther. I thought of the line from Winter’s Bone at the pond’s edge, from this point forward the poem was being formulated.

Some readers think I am speaking of a lover. I am not. I am speaking of a dear friend with whom I share a platonic connection. I think sometimes we get so fixated on romantic love that we forget the peaceful adoration of friendship. I wrote this during the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic. I hadn’t spent time with my best pal in over a month and was in withdrawal. I wanted nothing more than to walk out my front door, find her, and embrace her.

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