Sassafras · Ledges Trail


by Andrea Imdacha

April morning laden with mother-child breath, unearthing treasures from the underbelly of leaves. The sensation of being near-five, a whole hand of years closing like my fist around Mother’s calloused fingertip, tugging her down the stooped back of a hill toward the silver rush of water called River shushing over the shale where Mother also whispers hush hush at my ululations. 

My yellow rainboots, my yellow coat. Mother and I waddle, bills to the ground, pecking out treasures. In her old pail, our trinkets rattle. Mommy who is brimful of Names⎯ 

Sandstone, Silt, Bivalve. 
                            Black Gum, Pawpaw, Redbud. 
                                                                   Fern, Lichen, Hemlock.

I toe up fossils from the riverbed where sandbank skims forest. Sloughed-off cauls of snow encircle the longtrees, nursing the undergrowth that buds in treeshadow. A revelation of shoots sprout skyward from the litterfall – green leaves egground or mitten-gloved or cleaved into thirds, little ghosts with open arms, beckoning

“Sassafras,” Mother singsongs, uprooting a sapling. Naming the plant, Naming the child.

Mitten Tree in my toddling hands. Like Mother I chew the crisp stems. Softmint from the soil where my foremothers are planted awakens tender buds of taste. Invocation of pocketbook spearmint, leather-perfumed, idling unwrapped in the undernook of Mother’s bag, reducing to chalk when toothed-apart in the grocery line. This taste blooms too, budding and becoming, a changeling on my tongue. Spring tonic. Rootbeer nights. Toothpaste dollops. Suggestion of soap awakening my tongue to bitterness. A revelation, too, when Mother overturns the leaves to expose ghostwhite underbellies inviting us to netherworlds. 

Mint of the Woods. American Cinnamon. American Licorice so unlike anise from Fathersoil, where brownstars speckle Sri Lankan spice gardens and maybe, like sassafras, sprout in the understory, seeding the soil where my ancestors planted roots. Fatherland, that foreign place. 

Freshgreen. Springpill.
                           Underwhite. Bittermint. 

Such things I could say of myself, my whiteness under a surface browned by the sun. Bitter pills chewed like old purse-gum, disintegrating into the taste of my mouth so that my own saliva surfaces the memory of the words I swallowed, the kind that linger in the throat of a biracial girl whose childhood sprawls like sassafras down the Eastern coast. 

Ohio outskirts,
Carolina outskirts,
                                                           Georgia outskirts atop red clay

“Bloodsoil,” new friends say, giving Name to what lies underfoot. Speaking of the abducted, the enslaved, the overtrodden, the emancipated, the reconstructed, the segregated, the integrated, the profiled, the soilbound 

                                    Ancestors these new friends search for in the pruning scars of family trees. In recipes for gumbo thickened with sassafras like Father’s recipe for crab curry over idiyappam⎯never written down, the memory buried alongside the spoon I used to steal tastes of Father-Mother-Sister-Brotherland⎯the lost continent, the lost island, the lost forests verdant with jungleleaf and riversand and treeshadow and waterrush and all the tastes the English stole, the Dutch stole, the Portuguese stole, the French stole, the Germans stole, the Belgians stole, the Spanish stole⎯and isn’t your mouth tired, by now, of Naming multitudes made Thieves by 



                         goldlust                          indigolust 




because remember sassafras moved across oceans too. Unsinkable sassafras hammered into the hulls of ships. Unbreachable sassafras fencing coops and crops and farms and villages and the bloodwet land and the Names we lifted⎯Erie, Yemassee, Yamacraw⎯for lakes and townships and bluffs severed from the sea.

Haint-leafed sassafras haunting the spring forests. Spirit Protector. Body Nourisher. Cleanser of bad blood. Purifier of souls. 

“You can only do so much,” I say to my son, nearly-five fingers of his life wrapping around me, returning life’s balance to mother-child. Returning my feet to Ohio soil where Father rests, body-to-bone, deep beneath the mud browning our yellow boots.

“Sassafras,” Mother says and my son reaches through the April fog to touch the sapling nestled in tombstone shade, the air still, warmwet, unseasonable. Almost a Georgia spring. I pluck three ghostleaves and we chew the stems to pulp, Naming all along.







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Traveling Stanzas community arts projects bring poetry to people’s everyday lives through innovative methods and digital platforms.