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American Life in Poetry

Robert Morgan, who lives in Ithaca, N.Y., has long been one of my favorite American poets. He’s also a fine novelist and, recently, the biographer of Daniel Boone. His poems are often about customs and folklore, and this one is a good example.

Living Tree

It’s said they planted trees by graves

to soak up spirits of the dead

through roots into the growing wood.

The favorite in the burial yards

I knew was common juniper.

One could do worse than pass into

such a species. I like to think

that when I’m gone the chemicals

and yes the spirit that was me

might be searched out by subtle roots

and raised with sap through capillaries

into an upright, fragrant trunk,

and aromatic twigs and bark,

through needles bright as hoarfrost to

the sunlight for a century

or more, in wood repelling rot

and standing tall with monuments

and statues there on the far hill,

erect as truth, a testimony,

in ground that’s dignified by loss,

around a melancholy tree

that’s pointing toward infinity.

Poem copyright 2012 by Robert Morgan and reprinted from The Georgia Review, Spring 2012, by permission of the author and publisher. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


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