Poem: Deep in the Blackwater

Deep in the Blackwater

As a child you came here,
deep in the blackwater swamp,
my father’s playground, or so I am told,
far from the farms and towns
that made up civilization, far from people,
dark and brooding and full of fish
and water moccasins that fell
off the ancient cypress trees and into the black water
before slithering away.
Once, one fell in my wooden jonboat,
slithered across my oar, and before he could come closer
I flicked him in the water.
He swam near the surface to the next closest tree,
climbing somehow, without limbs of his own,
to drape and wait. I imagine him, indignant
as I paddled in a new direction.
My grandmother too, was indignant
every time I came home, indignant
that I has so blithely gone into that dangerous place.
“People die there.” she reminded each time I would emerge.
Perhaps they did, but my father did not. Or his father.
They returned to the swamp like seasons,
like the swallows to Capistrano, only more often
and alone, or nearly so.
When you begin, every finger of water looks the same.
Lost is your default. But I was young
and did not have the sense to fear being lost.
It felt like an adventure to me, a maze that
if you wandered long enough,
you would always find your way home.
Some did not, I am told. By my grandmother.
Some did not, but I always did.
The swamp is the home of stillness.
Never had the city boy in me seen such stillness.
Never had I heard true silence.
It was a foreign land to me, silence.
Any noise there, was mine to make. I could choose,
and I did, over and over. I chose stillness, finding in it
something that was new to me: myself. That boy,
ignored mostly, except for when the moment became my fault,
that boy, self contained as my mother told me,
but never asked why. Because it was safer than being.
But here, in the swamp, where people die,
was the safest place at all. I could feel with no one but God,
and he was a better companion than most people,
far more accepting than people wanted him to be,
we traveled the fingers of black water, settled into a place
and simply waited for me to emerge.

About this poem

There is a swamp that edges what was once my grandfather’s farm, the Blackwater Swamp. Before that, it was named after an Indian, the John Shehawken (there are about 10 spellings of that name.) Swamp. My father loved that swamp, once even writing a historical essay about it, I loved it too, and on the summers I spent at my grandfather’s farm, spent many hours there, to my grandmother’s chagrin.

We all need a place to be completely ourselves, and when we are young, often that is hard, Hell, it is hard all the time. The world wants us to be something else. What they imagine. What they want. What they need.

We all need a place to be completely ourselves. Sometimes that may be a swamp. Other times the arm of a special lover. And when we find that place, we never forget it.

Tom

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