Andrew Gottlieb: “Naming the Everglades”

Naming the Everglades

I could talk about the biology, the taxonomy,
the scientific names of things—
delicate biodiversity of Latinate costume—
but all I really know is the acres and acres of sedge
stretching away to the eyes’ horizon,
so much of it untouchable,
the plains that make these glades,
and the way I’d like to walk out among them,
stepping wetly wild, brushing the side
of one distant, vase-like cypress: leaning greenery
of grey slightness. So much of the world
holds itself at a distance, the woman
with binoculars walking alone off the path,
the teacher who never made eye contact,
the quiet chat you had before your grandfather
disappeared into an Iowan sky,
the moon, the stars,    (what are they?)
and perhaps we need Latin names
to aid us, Linnaeus with his intricate system,
labels that may assist with listing, specificities,
but not with wandering out hungrily to the mud
of things, the urge to slather it over skin,
to grab at other people and hold them to our body
with an unfashionable grasping
that doesn’t ease in any way the sense
with which we’re left, a recurring awareness
of insignificance when confronted
by a vast landscape of hammock and sawgrass.
Or by a call, the hidden hawk, red-shouldered
and solitary, offering an uncategorized cryptography
we can only translate as awe, richness,
epiphany about so many boundaries,
none of which will ever be grammatical
or constellate, but always slipping invisibly away
to the drifting grass that seems just inches
from your fingers, the humbling limits
of your outstretched, hoping hand.

Andrew C. Gottlieb’s work has appeared in many journals including American Fiction, Best New Poets, Beloit Fiction Journal, Ecotone, The Fly Fish Journal, Orion, Poets & Writers, and Salon.com, and he’s taught writing at the University of Washington, and Iowa State University. He’s been writer-in-residence in a number of wilderness locations, and he’s on the editorial board of Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments. His poetry manuscript has been a recent finalist for the May Swenson Poetry Award, the Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry, and it went to the judge for the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry. Find him at: www.andrewcgottlieb.com.

Photo by Ray Hennessy