Robert Morgan, who lives in Ithaca, New York, 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.
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.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation ( www.poetryfoundation.org ), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright 2012 by Robert Morgan, whose most recent book of poems is Terroir, Penguin Poets, 2011. Poem reprinted from The Georgia Review, Spring 2012, by permission of Robert Morgan and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2013 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. They do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.