Landscape, Dense with Trees

By Ellen Bryant Voigt b. 1943
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.

Ellen Bryant Voigt, “Landscape, Dense with Trees” from The Lotus Flowers (New York: W.W. Norton, 1983). Copyright © 1987 by Ellen Bryant Voigt. Used by permission of the author.

Source: The Lotus Flowers (1987)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Ellen Bryant Voigt b. 1943

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Nature, Family & Ancestors, Relationships, Jobs & Working, Landscapes & Pastorals, Activities

Holidays Father's Day

Biography

Ellen Bryant Voigt has lived in Vermont for many years; she spent her childhood in rural Virginia, where she grew up on her family’s farm. Her poems traverse the worlds of motherhood, the rural South, family, and music. Her 1995 collection Kyrie: Poems is a book-length sonnet sequence exploring the lives of people affected by the influenza epidemic of 1918–1919. Poet Edward Hirsch wrote of her early book, Claiming Kin (1976), . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Family & Ancestors, Relationships, Jobs & Working, Landscapes & Pastorals, Activities

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.