A charm for redbay (Persea borbonia)


Sassafrassafrassafrassy, redbay, persea—
Sweetbay, shorebay, your phenols expand,
Scenting salt spaces, symbious filteries
Rooted by blackwater, crowns nearing cloud.


Souther-hot, redbug-red, leastree abundersea.
Borboning sunlightly, scentall surroundersea.
Scrubbay, bullbay, bosky viridity,
Firstalso willight, seaself in mazemend:


Firstandere fromatiles pring tree-to-tree-to-tree:
Silkbay, tisswood, perseasting sweethe scend,
Lappin magnoliate, bee vividend.
Plannot be prosial, mazemering versea,
Ovivid, overduous, seavast and sunly—




This charm, from a project titled BELEAVE, is made for redbay trees (Persea borbonia). Redbay and other laurel-family trees in what is now called North America are threatened by laurel wilt disease, a beetle-fungus symbiont formed by the redbay ambrosia beetle, Xyleborus glabratus, and Raffaelea lauricola, which the beetles farm to feed their eggs. The disease causes rapid death in redbay trees on the continent. It’s speculated that Xyleborus glabratus was carried from its original locales in southeast Asia in packing materials, a side effect of global trade.


Text describing the symbiont’s biology—from “Isolations from the redbay ambrosia beetle, Xyleborus glabratus, confirm that the laurel wilt pathogen, Raffaelea lauricola, originated in Asia,” by Thomas C. Harrington, Hye Young Yun, Sheng-Shan Lu, Hideaki Goto, Dilzara N. Aghayeva and Stephen W. Fraedrich, Mycologia vol. 103, no. 5, September–October 2011—and text imagining conditions in which the trees might thrive were processed using an n-gram generator created by Brian Hayes. The resulting text was used in making the poem.

Anna Lena Phillips Bell is the author of Ornament, winner of the Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry, and the chapbook Smaller Songs, from St. Brigid Press. Her work appears in 32 Poems, the Southern Review, Subtropics, A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia, and elsewhere. She teaches at the Univerity of North Carolina Wilmington, where she has served since 2013 as editor of Ecotone, and calls ungendered Appalachian square dances in North Carolina and beyond.