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)

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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

 Ellen Bryant Voigt


Ellen Bryant Voigt grew up on her family's farm in rural Virginia. She earned her BA from Converse College and MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her most recent collections include Headwaters (2013), Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006, and Shadow of Heaven (2002).

Bryant Voigt studied piano when she was a child, not turning to poetry until a friend in college introduced her to poems by E.E. Cummings and Rilke. She . . .

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

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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