Before the Ellicotts arrived, mahogany, chestnut, elm, and beech trees climbed the hills around the river, in forests threaded through with footpaths worn by the Algonquian, Piscataway, and Susquehannock Indigenous People.
After European settlers moved in, the forests provided the wood for the Ellicotts’ sawmills, the lumber to build the town’s houses, even the pulp that made the paper on which the town’s history is written.
What persists are the hickory, beech, tulip poplars, and sycamores along the Patapsco River, the grandchildren of the forests the Ellicotts cleared for their farms, roads, and mills.
This poem sets us down in a forest, its trees both similar and individual, at the moment that the poem’s speaker senses a “green quivering.” Capturing a moment of transcendence, the poem concludes with questioning where one being ends and one begins.
Poet Choi’s work was only in the last ten years translated into English, though she published seven books of poetry and essays in her native South Korea and won the prestigious Modern Literature Award in 2007. In the afterword to her book translated into English, Instances, Choi wrote, “Sometimes I lose my sense of direction and time … . These moments are usually short,but sometimes they last long enough to build a kingdom. These moments inspire me to write poems.”
Korean is a language that now frequently appears on signs in Ellicott City. In 2021, the state designated a five-mile stretch of Route 40 as Koreatown, with more than 150 Korean-owned businesses concentrated in the area.
Recent census data counts 7% of the city’s population as Korean. In South Korea, Ellicott City’s ZIP codes are advertised as desirable places to move, and the area’s schools have long received overseas calls from Korean parents, asking about boundary lines and enrollment.
No matter the language, poems persist. With care, so will trees.
Forest by Jeongrye Choi Does the path leading to one tree go like this to another? Does it finally arrive at all the ultimate trees? The ideal beauty of one tree is so much like that of another. No end and no beginning. Green quivering for a moment— whose shadow are you? 숲 한나무에게가는길은 다른 나무에게도 이르게 하니? 마침내 모든 아름다운 나무에 닿게도 하니? 한 나무의 아름다움은 다른 나무의 아름다움과 너무 비슷해 처음도없고끝도없고 푸른 흔들림 너는 잠시 누구의 그림자니? “Forest” is from Instances by Jeongrye Choi. © 2011 by Parlor Press.