by Jacob Griffin Hall
It’s lazy introspection to believe
that having been here I have been here—
deer at swamp’s edge like a ghost story,
alligator feet like windchimes hanging
from the lowest cedar limb. Driving west
on 16, your hand feels like my hand
on the upholstery; new buildings we pass
seem stacked between the old buildings
we pass, mass of clouds and carrion birds
circling a carcass in the woods, brick
and stump and summer rot. To the south,
tannin water swells around the cypress trunks.
Herons stalk the brush and Spanish moss.
Having been gone and then returned,
having tied knots lost in the slack of years,
the woods are more substantial, the leaves
more substantial, the underbrush more
than its touch of depth, pine needles
scattered on the forest floor, and now,
having made in my mind the land
alongside my mind, returning constitutes
a kind of prophesy. It’s hard to believe
that absent the swamp’s innate tenacity,
there would be no swamp, blackwater
drained, forest logged to the peak
of expansionist profit. It’s hard to believe
that absent the Pleistocene glaciers
I’d never know this road, the swampside
comets, clouds breaching a reach of highway
that is, for now, exactly the thing I need.
But absent me, the swamp feeds and is fed,
bed of grass shoots and sandhill cranes,
mosquitoes darting below the fanned palmetto.
Yesterday, upstate, I was thinking of winter.
We passed miles of young logging pines
arranged in perfect rows like two stretches
of roadside mirror. What do I want
from this place? I was thinking of cold
and fear. What do I want from the way the land
holds or is held in evidence? Having been here
and returned, the exaltation of what might be.
What is. What’s not. What’s missing.