Poplar Forest

(A 2010 Horse & Buggy Press Book)
Photographs by Rob McDonald
Poem by Sam Witt

Note: This poem was written by describing Robert McDonald’s photographs of Thomas Jefferson’s second house at Bedford, Virginia and blending them with phrases and images taken from Jefferson’s records and correspondences. Any letter written at, or about, Poplar Forest, I considered to be fair game, along with similar excerpts from his Garden Book.







Poplar Forest

It is an Octagon of 50 f. diameter, of brick,
well built – which the sunlight still passes through & empties

by the roomful.    Come to me at Poplar Forest
& Jefferson’s bedroom will light up

in this stop-motion tangent of wind made liquid
rushing in at the warped window panes,

then violently freezing away through the magnolia leaves.
I enclose you a few seeds from the original:  Feb. 12.

gave Jupiter for ferrge to Pop. For. 3/.
sent to Poplar For.  6  Apricot trees,  2  Black hearts,

2  White hearts,  2  Golden wildings
& some white strawberries.

Sent this gaze echoing searchingly before you
in a shudder of clicks hardening into pure ebony

at the corners, toward the fireplace, through the window.
All this is submitted to your good pleasure in these forms,

struck off the light: the way leaves,
at the bottom of Tomahawk Creek,

are coated in a gelatin silver silt:  & here,  anxious shapes
attend 2 absent wooden chairs, quite at leisure,

on either side of the parlor door,
to have been long empty.

children born at Bedford this year.    Hanah    (Dinah’s)
Aug.—a girl  (Suck’s)  a girl  (Abby’s)  Nace  (Maria’s).

Now the inside work is mostly done for he was alone here.
Shade is our Elysium, for when a solitary cellar window

sucks the light out of you in a long tunnel,
it originates somewhere inside that soft,

splashing place in his chest, 4 or 5 acres
from its entrance at Blackwater,

where not a sprig of grass shoots uninteresting to me.
The inside work is mostly done.  Here, the light is quite alone

to dispense with the persecution of letters & carry it away,
when nothing will be wanting to finish it completely

but the cornices and some of the doors.
If you say yes to this proposition,

Get from Mr. Perry and Mr. Dinsmore an estimate
of all the nails.  Soon as the green swerd is ripe,

have some gathered by the negro children and sowed
on all the naked parts of the mound.

The seed is light as chaff but I am weakening sensibly.
I can walk no further than my garden.  Come to me.

Walk through the North Entrance carrying
your heavy gaze in a black box.

The camera will click a last time in this fragile air
before shuddering through the empty house

with the sound of a door clicking shut behind you
as the strike plate receives the latch.