Crossing the Swamp

After about an hour hiking the swamp,
I knew. A week’s rains flooded out the trail.
Tall sameness of pines stood round me. Stagnant water,
coffee dark, spread before me. My new boots
stamped sucking cleats to nowhere on red mud.
I knew! But first, denial. Was I really lost?

My damp, illegible map replied: You’re lost.
Sour, rotting silt smells bubbled from the swamp.
I waded in, my walking rod probing soft mud.
Scanning the opposite shore, I see the trail,
I thought, I’ll wade it. Gradually, though, my boots
began sinking. Soon I was shin deep in water.

A dirty rag bobbing quietly on the water
squeaked and vanished. A muskrat? Startled, I lost
balance, arms flailing as if to swat wasps, boots
still stuck, then flopped with a loud splash. White swamp
egrets scattered. I clambered up, looked out: the trail
waited, no closer. How could I slosh dense mud

to get there? Cypress domes bulged out of mud.
I grabbed those, linking dots through murky water,
totally soaked by now, strewing a trail
of gear—hat, vest—any weight to spare. I lost
my sense of place, sweat blinding my eyes. A swamp
root yanked me underwater by a boot’s

strap—I thrashed free, frantically kicking both boots,
till I surfaced, gasping like a fish in mud.
The bottom was deeper now. I could swim the swamp
dogpaddling. A snake scared by my churning water
skimmed away. Panicked, I swung at it and lost
my walking rod, kept paddling, struggling, the trail

yards off. Legs and arms burning, I touched the trail
when pebbly bottom suddenly struck my boots.
Dripping, I rose like a Swamp Thing—not lost,
not needing to write my epitaph in mud.
I threw my head back, drained the dregs of my water
bottle then, laughing, tossed it at the swamp.

Resuming the trail, I swore by the crusted mud
of my boots, by that dank baptismal water,
I’d never been lost a moment in that swamp.



Carey Jobe is a retired lawyer who has published poetry over a 45-year span.  His work has recently appeared in The Orchards Poetry Journal, The Lyric, The Road Not Taken, and Sparks of Calliope.  He lives and writes south of Tallahassee, Florida.  

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10 Responses

  1. Jeremiah Johnson

    Nice! Sestinas ain’t easy to pull off. I like the illusion at the end to The Swamp Thing. And that parting gesture to the swamp of tossing your water bottle in – like a consolation prize for not winning : ) Then that Frostian irony (like thinking you’d actually taken the “road less travelled”) in the last three lines. If you’ll pardon my audacity, you brought to mind one of my own recent poems, which I thought I’d include here:

    Pampas Grass

    My neighbor’s coming over in his truck.
    I grab my work gloves, throw on worn out shirt
    And jeans and walk down to our cul-de-sac
    Where, by the mailbox, our antagonist
    Awaits – its finger lacerating leaves,
    The dead growth layered underneath green skirts,
    The jutting stalks with feathered lace up top,
    Those stalks which my two sons have on occasion
    Asked me to pluck out for them as swords,
    Reminding of King Louie in The Jungle Book
    Who whacks his rogue advisor with a frond –
    But sons’ affinity won’t save this bush today.

    He pulls up to the curb, a lazy cigarette
    Between his fingers, wiry handshake, easy
    Grin from blue-eyed, laid-back Navy retiree.
    His expert eye takes in the pampas grass –
    “I’ll try my special saw blade on it first,”
    He says and tackles it, the whine of edge
    Assaulting hardy stalks, I clearing them
    Behind him as he circles round the plant,
    ‘til finally he turns it off, an acrid smell
    Alerting us he’s burning out his tool.
    The bush of hardier stuff than saw will cut –
    We’ve little more than manicured the thing.

    He hands me a pick axe, puts me to work
    At hacking vegetation into separate
    Clumps of growth, until we’ve made
    Partitions at the base of each weedy bouquet.
    Then going to his truck cab he brings forth
    Thick tow straps, “Here, take these and wrap
    Them round the base, and make them snug.”
    He hooks the other ends to a tow hitch
    And climbs into his cab – I kneeling, holding
    Straps in place as he reverses, briefly floors
    The gas and lets his pickup jerk and buck
    Against plant hardiness, then eases off.

    A pattern now arises of swift backward jerks,
    Each pull resulting in faint-tearing tendons,
    I lowering the straps to gain more ground
    And pushing with my negligible weight
    Against the plant while engine revs again.
    The question which will give out first,
    We two or nature’s will to hold its ground.
    Then one by one the clumps tear loose
    From moorings ‘til the last – the pickup
    Straining and my body thrust against it –
    Yields its grip and dumps me in the
    Georgia clay, bruised knees and muddied jeans.

    My neighbor climbs out of his truck as I
    Get up from where I fell, he grinning
    As I brush myself off, take his hand,
    Our eyes exultant in our victory.
    Like Gilgamesh and Enkidu, beheaded
    Monster at their feet, grown closer
    By our struggle ‘gainst a common foe.
    How I’ll dispose of all this is a task
    Best saved for later, and my wife and I
    Have yet to figure what will take its place.
    For now we’ve challenged nature’s sway –
    Naively claimed this trivial mastery.

    • Carey Jobe

      Jeremiah, thanks for commenting and I’m glad you enjoyed my poem. I loved reading “Pampas Grass”–thanks for the audacity, a trait we should prize. How many great and necessary actions would never occur without it!

  2. Paddy Raghunathan


    A fun sestina for the morning. Glad you were able to get away from the messy swamp. Also love the way you end the poem with a denial.

    How many messy situations we get into in life, and how quick we are to deny it all!


    • Carey Jobe

      Thanks so much, Paddy. It was actually a fun poem to write. Glad to add some fun to your morning. Yes, denial should be in everybody’s toolbox, but should be used wisely and seldom.

  3. Margaret Coats

    A good story, Carey, which is not as common in sestinas as it might be. I was worried about you, and reminded of the realistic reasons why I prefer to keep swamps at a safe distance. Very much liked the building of suspense, and the framing denials in first stanza and tornada.

    • Carey Jobe

      Margaret, thank you for your insightful remarks! Yes, I was trying to use the sestina as format for a narrative poem. Most sestinas, maybe due to the extreme rigidity of the form, seem to have a circular or theme-and-variations quality. I intentionally chose my 6 “hero words” to allow a story and suspense to progress. The denials were also intentional to frame the story, as you say. And while the underlying meter is iambic pentameter, I wrote what Frost called “loose iambics” using trochees and dactyls often instead of iambs, and made strong use of enjambment, especially toward the end, again to add to the suspense. I know that regular iambic pentameter is favored on this site, but we don’t always have smooth seas in life–or when Crossing the Swamp–and I wouldn’t expect the struggling protagonist of my poem to utter Tennysonian lines! Yet maybe (just guessing) that’s why my poem has come and gone almost without any comments. Regardless of that, I’m so glad you liked my poem and took the time to write a kind, thoughtful remark. Thanks again, and I promise I will be back!

    • Margaret Coats

      Carey, thanks for giving such a detailed account of your work in this poem. I would say this site favors perceptible meter, rather than regular iambic pentameter. We’ve had discussions about metrical substitutions, and generally agreed that they are indispensable in the long tradition of poetry we follow. It’s difficult to find a poem of any length, much less a poet, with perfectly regular meter.

      Still, I would call your meter in this sestina extremely rough, and you may have lost response from readers who found it not to their taste. My reading for meter immediately found your underlying iambic pentameter, so it’s not imperceptible. I can appreciate the roughness as suited to the swamp setting and the story of being lost in a threatening place. You may be interested in my counting of stresses per line–and I do stress that others might count differently. The poem is basically pentameter, but to me lines 4, 6, 9, 17, 22, and 29 have six stresses. Lines 33 and 38 have only four stresses. I call these variant lines, not mixed meter. The enjambments are not much to my taste, and combined with the meter the effect is unusual. But once again, the overall artistry is enjoyable!

  4. Paul A. Freeman

    I enjoyed your poem, Carey, but then I’m particularly fond of narrative poems.

    Thanks for the read.

    • Carey Jobe

      Paul, I am so glad you enjoyed reading my poem! Thank you for telling me so, and for being one of the “Fabulous Four” who honored me with a comment. Writing a sestina is not easy, especially a narrative one, so knowing you and three others liked it makes all the hard work worthwhile.

      • Paul A. Freeman

        I’m sure more than three others apart from myself read your piece, and you’ll probably be glad to know that I’ve started reading and getting to grips with sestinas, prior to writing one, after reading your fine effort here.

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