In the Congaree
I’m home. I’m not home. I’m on the road or
Off it, briefly. I’ve been out of place. I’ve been
Taking familiar walks. I like the boardwalk. I like
The swamp. I feel ill at ease. I feel fine.
As August ends, I’m thick and cold. As I circle
Above a tide of cypress knees, of webs,
Fallen trunks and leaves, I gather out
The mud a mossy repose. A violent mist.
A green allure. I have spoken into
A dead and standing pool of air, where,
In its center, a spider hangs. I can hear myself
Moving, notes taken on paper, on
My feet, I stop and that makes a sound.
I look out into what feels ancient. It
Doesn’t seem old. My voice is spun.
I’m rolling out myself last rung by rung.
I pinned my eye to the base of a loblolly pine,
And rose, much higher than I would
Suppose. I know everything already. I have to
Ask people questions. All of my relatives
Are famous. There are so many people dead.
Look at these trees. They’re shattered in pieces.
They’re tall and full. I look forward, steadily,
At the moss grown high as the flood.
Copyright © 2016 by Samuel Amadon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 21, 2016, this poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
“The Congaree National Park is the largest old-growth natural forest in the southeast, located on a river floodplain and full of some of the oldest, tallest trees in the state, and it’s about a thirty minute drive from my house in the city. Walking out over the swamp on the two-and-a-half mile elevated boardwalk, I feel turned two ways at once: in my head and out of it, in the right place and in a random one. This double feeling is one I’ve been pursuing in my work—I want my speaker’s voice to feel both old and new, public and personal—and so, though the poem began as something occasional, it ended as an ars poetica.”