Poetry Sunday: Landscape, Dense with Trees

Did you see the story about the MacArthur Genius Grants that were announced this past week? As always, the 24 fellows for 2015 make up a diverse and fascinating group of people, but I was especially excited to see among that list of mostly fairly young or at least middle-aged people the name of a 72-year-old poet! 

Ellen Bryant Voigt's poems, in the words of Poetry Magazine, "often traverse the worlds of motherhood, the rural south, family, and music," all worlds with which I am intimately familiar. Ms. Voigt also has a strong sense of the natural world. I find this poem particularly evocative of Nature, the rural south where both she and I grew up, and family.

Landscape, Dense with Trees

When you move away, you see how much depends   
on the pace of the days—how much
depended on the haze we waded through
each summer, visible heat, wavy and discursive   
as the lazy track of the snake in the dusty road;
and on the habit in town of porches thatched in vines,   
and in the country long dense promenades, the way   
we sacrificed the yards to shade.
It was partly the heat that made my father
plant so many trees—two maples marking the site
for the house, two elms on either side when it was done;   
mimosa by the fence, and as it failed, fast-growing chestnuts,   
loblolly pines; and dogwood, redbud, ornamental crab.   
On the farm, everything else he grew
something could eat, but this
would be a permanent mark of his industry,
a glade established in the open field. Or so it seemed.   
Looking back at the empty house from across the hill,   
I see how well the house is camouflaged, see how   
that porous fence of saplings, their later
scrim of foliage, thickened around it,
and still he chinked and mortared, planting more.   
Last summer, although he’d lost all tolerance for heat,   
he backed the truck in at the family grave
and stood in the truckbed all afternoon, pruning
the landmark oak, repairing recent damage by a wind;   
then he came home and hung a swing
in one of the horse-chestnuts for my visit.
The heat was a hand at his throat,
a fist to his weak heart. But it made a triumph   
of the cooler air inside, in the bedroom,
in the maple bedstead where he slept,
in the brick house nearly swamped by leaves.


  1. How nice! It evokes lazy summer afternoons by the shade. I like it.


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