Tree bones at night

Hi everyone,

This is a favorite of mine. It’s in the book I wrote about the trip that SANDY and I took up the Amazon River and into some tributaries years ago. The book, SOUNDS OF RAIN, was published in 2006 by Wordsong, Boyds Mills Press.

For those of you who remember the back story, I loved the trip. Sandy did not. That was the year I forfeited all future rights to choose our vacations.

The riverboat we were on, Amatista, held about 14 passengers and a crew of 8 or 10. Without notes, I can’t be sure. Small anyway. The poem is about watching our vessel negotiate its way upstream in the dark, sometimes through cramped channels and around short turns. Memories of a lifetime.


The boat’s twin running lights
punch long tunnels through the dark.
Ghostly clouds of insects swirl,
a smorgasbord for swooping bats
whose shadows fly along the bank.

The narrow stream coils ahead,
a twisting snake that squeezes in
until the boat can scarcely breathe.

A mounted spotlight casts
its blazing eye from side to side
as Captain shoulders through
tight turns and shallow places.

Tree trunks caught in the glare glisten,
white skeletons surprised by light.
I imagine armies row on row
of tree bones marching on patrol
beside us in the night.

The trip eventually prompted me to write a YA novel about that gigantic forest and one of the stories I wanted to tell about it. I have not yet found a publisher. It begins like this.

The Amazon River flows flat and brown between banks guarded by trees without number. The sky is so wide that yellow sun in one area doesn’t bother flashing rain clouds in another. This is the largest rainforest on earth. It covers more than two million square miles and is home to nearly one out of every three kinds of living things. In 1999 my wife Sandy and I journeyed into the Amazon rainforest. We left from Iquitos, Peru, the largest city in the world that can be reached only by plane or boat. From there our adventure took us past the headwaters of the Amazon onto smaller rivers that led us more than one hundred miles into the forest.

12 comments on “Tree bones at night

    • I was seated alone on a little perch on the highest place on the boat, the dark rain forest around me. What a splendid moment in my life.

  1. Evocative poem! I’m glad you went, enjoyed it, and wrote about it, so that I can appreciate it from the comfort of home. (I’m with Sandy on this one.)

    • Thank you, Jane. I reread this one now and then to recapture that special night. One of a kind for me though nothing new for the forest.

    • Thank you, dear Jeanne. I have a picture I love, taken on that trip, of Sandy standing over me with a raised machette while an amused audience of other passengers snaps pictures. Alas, it’s saved in a format I can’t use here.

  2. It took me a while to finish reading poem and excerpt from beginning of novel–I was laughing too hard at your forfeiting all rights for future vacations!!!! Poor Sandy.

    • It’s a great picture that I’d love to show you. I hope I can find someone who can change it to jpeg. But I thought my sentence was a little harsh.

    • It was a glorious trip, Jeff. You would have loved it. I’d go again but my M.O.W. would track me down and bring me back. I can just feel it.

      • Naaah, your M.O.S. would just figure you’d find your way back & she might not even change the locks – OR she’d leave you a note before embarking on an adventure of her own, one w/ room service & screens on the windows. (LOVED the poem AND the excerpt – minded me of David Grann’s EXCELLENT & chilling nonfiction book The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, totally recommend it. The book. NOT the adventure.

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