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Letter to the Oldest Living Longleaf Pine in North America

—Southern Pines, NC

I expected a God, a titan

towering above the rest of the forest. Instead,

you were only a tree.

Not a sequoia or redwood with their legendary torsos,

thick as the stone turrets of another continent’s

medieval castles. Just a regular tree.

An unusually tall and dignified tree, certainly,

but also one with a bend in the spine like a thin man with a bad back.

Fragile. Limping toward some medicated tomorrow.

You looked exhausted. And who wouldn’t?

After outliving centuries of witch trials and slave ships,

genocides and confederacies,

logging industries and men from Maryland

sent to harvest your sap for turpentine.

Four hundred sixty-eight years is a long time when,

at any given moment,

someone like me could toss

a cigarette butt from the window of a minivan.

And just like that: history

is an ash-whitened field,

a twenty-square-mile arc of unremarkable flatness

in a space where some ancient breathing things

once stood (the way I now stand), their limbs

stretching to feel the wind weave

through their fingers and branches.

from Constellation RouteFind more by Matthew Olzmann at the library

Copyright © 2022 Matthew Olzman
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.

Published in Matthew Olzmann Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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