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"Leaving the Oldest Tree in Maine Alone" by John Popielaski


 

            The map of what’s been cut

            from here clear up to Maine

            since the incursions

            shows that almost all

            of the originals and everything

            within and on them

            shuddered and were rudely

            taken, rudely told

            their squatting days were over.

 

            Mr. Doyen used to sip his clear booze

            in a clear glass, poring

            over maps of places

            he would never see in person.

            I’d stand by his armchair, asking

            what this cartographic feature was

            or that, intending to appear

            like someone who would not be

            smoking weed so deeply

            in his son’s Camaro minutes hence.

 

            The ways we should and should not be

            successors to the fathers

            are negotiated somehow

            by a spirit in an ice cave.

 

            After overdoing it one night

            as an advanced adult,

            I woke and drove northwest

            to Goshen, where a black gum

            has been living mostly incognito

            for the last six-hundred years.

            I hiked in to the swampland,

            and I saw there was no way

            I’d find the old-growth tupelo

            without some serious guidance

            and was happy for the failure.

 

            In the spirit of the Widow Douglas,

            I took snuff

            and drove to Massachusetts

            where the oldest tree is in a forest

            under state protection

            and accessible to such as me.

            I sat beneath the eastern hemlock

            who was born around the time

            of Shakespeare’s mother,

            and I wondered if such context

            was another species of diminishment.

            I camped that night nearby

            the hemlock, and I don’t remember

            fretting over lifespans

            or mysterious allotments.

 

            I fasted on the third day

            and apologized to nature

            for the fumes that trailed me

            up to Buel’s Gore, where I shut the car off

            at a trailhead and had visions

            of the eastern hemlock that has lived

            the last five-hundred years

            below the Camel’s Hump

            on which I stood two hours later, clueless

            as to who the eldest was or why

            my torso tingled so.

 

            The next day I replenished

            my electrolytes but otherwise

            ingested nothing but an eighth

            of mushrooms on my way east

            to New Hampshire and the black gum

            who has lived there since

            we’ll call it 1323, three centuries

            before New Hampshire ever was.

            I found the road that ended

            well shy of the wetlands,

            and I wondered who I was

            to think it was okay

            to try and get a handle on longevity

            and loss by serially invading

            what should be inviolate.

 

            I parked two car lengths

            from a brand-new Cherokee that idled,

            and I couldn’t say if I had heard

            an outcry ever for the model’s name change.

            I decided I would look

            at black gums from afar,

            without interior narration,

            but I saw the woman slumped

            against the steering wheel,

            her brown hair lustrous, widespread

            down her back, no scarring

            of a tree ring in the black gums,

            no contraction to record her passing

            at the age of twenty-nine.

 

 

John Popielaski is the author of a novel, The Hollow Middle (Unsolicited Press), as well as a few poetry collections, including the chapbook Isn't It Romantic? (Texas Review Press). His poems have recently appeared in such journals as Clade Song, Poetrybay, Roanoke Review, and Sheila-Na-Gig.

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