[There’s water everywhere in Hunt Hawkins’ “Old Veteran Cypress,” but in this poem focused on a single unmoving tree the ways of water are mysterious. We move from one body of water (including that of the nearly drowned poet) to another, and water’s movements are compared to memory’s. But are there other connections as well, as for example to the American (imperial?) urge to travel and its risks?

           — John McClure]

Memory murkier than the ocean, I forgot
why my mother, ashes now at rest in Chambersburg,
had the painting currently hanging in our stairwell
signed D. E. Jackson of a lone cypress tree on a cliff edge
by the sea, its green and reddish-brown branches
spreading nearly to the frame, centered and full,
squiggly yet solid in the manner of Thomas Hart Benton
until I realize it must have been Doris, her childhood friend
from Waynesboro who married my father’s friend, Ed,
after he asked “Are there any more at home like you,”
then years later left him, taking the children to Rome
to be a painter and having an Italian lover until
he discovered the money wasn’t hers.

My mother, desperate to escape small town Pennsylvania,
also wanted to see the world, making my father
take a bad job in Burma where one night we circled neon-lit
Shwedagon Pagoda said to house eight hairs of Gautama,
pasting on gold leaf for luck, and then later I nearly
drowned in Inya Lake, the water-logged rowboat
sinking in rain, my lungs burning so badly I started
to breathe water and watch birds cross the sky
until three saffron-robed monks paddled out to catch me,
pumped me dry on their temple floor, and received money
from my father, who afterwards got arrested for DUI,
fired, and my parents separated forever.

How many times do we get to live our lives, I ask myself,
as a memory, like an old fish, swims up of Ed and Doris
attempting to give my parents money in the driveway
of our rented house in Pacific Grove after they had stayed
two weeks, Doris going every day to Point Lobos to paint,
so I search the internet until I find the tree, most photos
taken from the water showing the huge exposed roots
clinging to the cliff, but one from the land
with its green arms spreading, standing all alone
in one place for over a thousand years.