Sycamore & Ivy Poetry Contest Adult Winner: Autopsy of a Douglas Fir by Joe Cottonwood

Joe Cottonwood’s “Autopsy of a Douglas Fir” was praised and enjoyed by all of our judges for its language, imagery, and the breadth of meaning in its lines. One judge praised “the sweep of time he conveys” as well as “the efficiency with which he evokes these thoughts and feelings.” Another judge had this to say: “This poem is entangled in this specific tree in this specific place, but the scope of time and our smallness in it is adroitly interwoven.”

Joe Cottonwood has worked in the building trades most of his life: carpenter, plumber, electrician. He’s also been a writer all his life and has published a bunch of books, but never hit it big. More recently, he’s put out a bunch of podcasts and loves the medium. He grew up in Maryland and has an Appalachian bias. Eventually, he moved west and built his house under redwoods in the Santa Cruz mountains, raised a family, has lived with the same woman for half a century, and plays with the grandkids. As he says, “That’s a career and it continues yet.” You can find out more about Joe at

Please join us in congratulating Joe for this winning poem, and in appreciating the poignant beauty and depth of its language.

Autopsy of a Douglas Fir

In your bleeding cross-section I count
centuries since that mother cone
dropped on soil no one owned.
Black bears scratched backs
against your young bark. Ohlone
passed peacefully on their path
to the waters of La Honda Creek.

In my lifetime you groaned.
Your bark filled with beetles.
Woodpeckers drilled, feasted.
Needles, whole limbs,
you shed your clothes,
stood naked. I cut your flesh.

You walloped the earth, creating a trench
two hundred feet long where you lie.
As you fell in your fury
you destroyed my tomatoes,
smashed the daffodils,
snapped a dogwood.

Better you crush my garden than my house
which did not exist nor any of this town
when you first advanced one tender green.
I want to believe the sawtooth less cruel
than another winter of storms.

All good fathers must fall.
Your children surround you,
waving, blocking the light.
My children count rings,
hands sticky with sap.

One comment

  1. Mr. Cottonwood’s expansive view of the life of the tree that pounded down upon his property is generous and insightful. I especially was touched by the line, “All good fathers must fall.” I must admit that I giggle at the prospect of the flower arrangement Joe will receive as part of his prize. Will it contain a Douglas Fir? And will it form a trench?

    Liked by 1 person

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