Congaree Swamp, South Carolina
We came here from New England’s trim green lawns
and wide flat maple leaves. There, even the flowers are decorous,
animals and birds painted with a planned palette as if selected
specifically for postcards: Cardinal Against Snowy Evergreen Branch.
You point to the skinks skittering along the boardwalk railing,
dull dun lizards with a shock of electric blue tail darting
up the waxen trunks of the magnolia tree. I read to you
from the mimeographed field guide: cypress knees and tupelo drupes.
Like any foreign language the sounds delight. Loblollies.
Green haw. Sweetgum. Sedge.
We have waded past a country mile of Pentecostal clapboard churches.
We know where we came from, but not where we are going.
The tupelo trees spread over of the black water, the wild grape
snakes up the paw-paw tree, heavy with scuppernongs.
Perhaps we will move to a city. A township, a suburb.
What jobs? What friends?
The barred owl whooos in the canopy, the woodpecker
clatters at the beech tree. Tulip poplars bassoon
their triumphant fruit, blazing orange, emerald. I rest
my hand upon your shoulder.
Below, snapping turtles snatch
hunks of bread, thrown down by a row
of children, laughing, at the bridge’s end.
In Singapore he rides the cable car to Sentosa,
the Island of Tranquility, the pleasure island.
He tours Butterfly Park, marveling at the painted wings
of Lepidoptera. On the wings of a hawk moth from Madagascar
there is a pattern that looks like a grasshopper’s head.
Primary-colored butterflies cling upside down to leaves,
vibrant, dangling like a woman’s earrings.
In one corner a chrysalis depends from a plant stem.
He gazes at it, wondering at a creature that could wrap itself in silk
and emerge transformed. It is something like a mummy
in an old horror movie stepping out of a creaking sarcophagus,
or else Christ pushing the stones from his tomb on the third day.
Or else Osiris, or Lazarus arising at the foot of the Mount of Olives.
The Native American ghost dances, the phoenix, and Persephone’s
half-death each year. He scratches his chin and stares at his reflection
staring back at him from the butterflies’ glass terrarium.
He studies the tourists with their cameras. He looks down
at his hands, his tanned arms with their fine blond hair.
That night at the youth hostel, he takes the white sheets from the bed
and wraps himself in them. He lies with his eyes closed, imagining a Y-shaped
incision across his chest, its edges the luminescent outline of a pair of wings.
About the author
Long before Ingrid Steblea settled in the beautiful Happy Valley area of western Massachusetts, she and her husband and son traveled across the continental…Read the full bio
Issue 06 · August 2009
Table of contents
- From the editors
- Postcard Prose
- Travel Notes