Monday, March 17, 2008
Some Poems with Trees in Them
Stone markers, ashes, the self --
I know we must consider these
But the lake is as mortal. And that is
why the earth seems to rest
in silent meditation, the leaves of the sun
blowing gold and claret and sherry
This white sand ridge, solid enough
to walk on, moving in truth like a cloud
If I could muster it, I'd be an unknowing
as winged, as seamless as these
flashes of scarlet intermittence you say are
woodpeckers, having constructed each one
from the hollow rattle of its call
and the pattern of black and white
and brilliant red that drills on the broken
baroque of these old oaks
they are what I cannot see for looking
But just look into those bald, black
imperturbable eyes -- unblinking, passionless
There's the unknowable, that's what does
as it must, without thinking it, seeing everything
as it is, unlike nothing else, and God
* * *
Secular Metamorphosis of
Joyce Kilmer's "Trees"
Don't talk to me about trees having branches and roots:
they are all root, except for the trunk, and the high root,
waving its colors in the air, is no less snarled in its food
than is the low root snarled in its specialty: nourishment
in dirt. What with the reciprocal fair trade of the trunk
holding the two roots together and apart in equipoise,
the whole tree stand in solid connection to its whole self
except for the expendable beauty of its seasonal ends,
and is so snarled at either end in its contrary goods
that it studs the dirt to the air with its living wood.
This anagogic significance grows with its growth for years,
twigging in all directions as evidence of entirety,
although it waves back and forth in the wind and is a host
to fungi, insects, men, birds, and the law of entropy.
-- Alan Dugan
* * *
"Even a Thousand Years"
I can't remake the world
and there's no sense in it either.
Day unto day and day unto night declare nothing.
In the spring, sweet-peas, lilacs and roses come up,
everything life-size and in natural color.
Nothing really new grows here,
not once in ten years.
Whoever wants to breath attar of roses,
let him gather it from the wind,
and whoever wants to plant a tree,
let him plant a fig tree --
he'll never get to enjoy it himself.
You ask if I've ever seen beauty?
Well, I've seen quite a bit,
but not in the right places.
Say, that waterfall:
of course I've seen it, what then?
A thundering waterfall isn't such a pretty sight.
Beauty doesn't walk round in the open air,
sometimes it's inside a room
when the doors are locked and the shutters down.
Really, the most beautiful things
aren't rivers or shores or mountains.
I know too much about all of that
to fool myself.
After the pain there's just curiosity
to see what happens in the end
to everything beautiful.
Of course I don't have to plant a fit tree.
I can always wait for spring,
the roses, the hyacinths.
But in time people grow tough
gray, stubborn as stone.
Perhaps it's an attractive prospect
to turn into a block of salt
with a mineral strength.
To stare empty-eyed
at this potash and phosphate factory
even a thousand years.
-- Dahlia Ravikovitch
(translated from the Hebrew by Chana Block & Ariel Bloch)
* * *
"Brief, That Place in the Year"
Brief, that place in the year
when a blossoming pear tree
with its sweet laundered scent
reinhabits wooden roads
that arch and diverge up
into its electronic snow city.
-- Les Murray
* * *
"The Origin of Flowering Plants"
Some say the first flower, complex, waxy,
bloomed from the shrubby magnolia.
Others believe that certain herbs
put forth simple blossoms along river banks
so tiny the browsing dinosaurs
missed them as they chewed.
I vote for the herbs. Magnolias are baroque,
complicated and showy. When I lived in the South,
I'd walk down avenues of huge magnolia trees
crunching the fallen leaves, where they were strewn
like curled banana peels under the branches.
I'd admire the large saucers of the blossoms,
astonished by the beauty displayed on a scale
that seemed to exclude me with its perfection.
Here in the North, where I live now,
the ground greens slowly with tender shoots
so transparent you can only see them
when you get down on your hands and knees to look,
scraping back dead grass to find, here and there,
a delicate stigma inside a cup of petals.
Imagine being the ancestral angiosperm --
that rumbling thunder shaking your riverbank
must be the slap of the dinosaur's tail
as it whacks the trees and shrubs in its path.
Your diminutive flower quivers on its stalk,
the carpel bulging with the earth's first
mysterious new seeds. You've made them
by yourself, but how? What are they for?
Soon the shadow of a neck blots out the sun,
and teeth rake over the tough, wet stalks
swaying above you, and you feel your whole self,
all your struggling growth, your mastery,
pressed down into a layer of the clay
where centuries will turn you into a fossil.
Now the massive hind legs gouge a pit,
the river seeps in, but the shock
freed your seeds -- sealed, half-aquatic, they float.
Later, when the water dries up in the sun
leaving silky mud down in the pit,
a few seeds flourish, remembering you
in every gene as they burst into existence,
unnoticed, shy, but radiant with the future.
-- Maura Stanton
* * *
Late in November, on a single night
Not even near to freezing, the gingko trees
That stand along the walk drop all their leaves
In one consent, and neither to rain nor to wind
But as though to time alone: the golden and green
Leaves litter the lawn today, that yesterday
Had spread aloft their fluttering fans of light.
What signal from the stars? What senses took it in?
What in those wooden motives so decided
To strike their leaves, to down their leaves,
Rebellion or surrender? and if this
Can happen thus, what race shall be exempt?
What use to learn the lessons taught by time,
If a star at any time may tell us: Now.
-- Howard Nemerov
* * *
"The Hunt for the Kingfisher"
How many times has a verse come to my mind
even at a crossroads
while the lights were at red?
You can even fall in love
in that short a time.
But before I'd walked across
to the far side
I'd forgotten the verses.
I was still able
to jot them down off-hand.
But the smile
of the girl who crossed over in front of me
I remember to this day.
Under the railway bridge at Kralupy
I often as a boy would climb
into the branches of a hollow willow
and among the twigs above the river
think and dream
of my first verses.
But, to be honest, I also
would think and dream
of lovemaking and women
and watch the torn-off reeds
float on the water.
Easter was around the corner,
the air was full of vernal magic.
I even saw a kingfisher once
on a whipping twig.
In all my life
I never saw another
and yet my eyes have often longed
for a closer view of that delicate beauty.
Even the river had a urgent fragrance then,
that bittersweet fragrance,
the fragrance of women's loosened hair
when from their shoulders it overflows
their naked bodies.
And when, years later, I immersed
my face into that hair
and opened my eyes,
I gazed through those sunlit depths
to the roots of love.
There are rare moments in my life
when I find myself once more
under the railway bridge at Kralupy.
Everything there is as it used to be,
even that willow --
but I am just imagining it all.
Easter is once more round the corner,
the air is full of vernal magic
and the river is fragrant.
For every day under my window
the birds go mad quite early in the morning
and, singing as if their lives depended on it,
they drown each other's voices,
and those sweet dreams
which usually come at dawn
But that's the only thing
I can hold against the spring.
-- Jaroslav Seifert
(translated from the Czech by Ewald Osers)
* * *
You were my mother, thorn apple bush,
armed against life's raw push.
But you my father catalpa tree
stood serene as now -- he refused to see
that the other woman, the hummer he shaded
for his purse petals falling --
-- Lorine Niedecker
* * *
The trees on the left side of the garden
Had been trimmed so that their outline resembled
A man and a woman making love.
The woman was very beautiful.
The man had a hatchet in his hand
By which it could be guessed that he was George Washington.
A cherry tree grew freely at his side.
But the woman did not seem to be Martha Washington!
What would George be doing, even as a tree, with another woman?
This was the wild side of his life
When, freed from Presidential responsibilities,
He could chop down trees and make love to women as he wanted --
Great joy, at this thought, wells up in the gardener's heart.
The trees on the left side of the garden
Become more than topiary this one time.
Talking to each other they found an idle thing.
That could be an ideal thing.
They went on talking far into the night
And during the next hundred days
Until finally George Washington said to not-Martha-Washingtion
"It's time to be again what once we were!"
But they, trees, remain fixed, no return, from branches and leaves.
-- Kenneth Koch
* * *
sun breaks over the eucalyptus
grove below the wet pasture,
water's about hot,
I sit in the open window
& roll a smoke.
distant dogs bark, a pair of
cawing crows; the twang
of a pygmy nuthatch high in a pine --
from behind the cypress windrow
the mare moves up, grazing.
a soft continuous roar
comes out of the far valley
of the six-lane highway -- thousands
and thousands of cars
driving men to work.
-- Gary Snyder
* * *
It is morning, and raining. My apple tree is dead,
except for one last season of ragtag chickadees
singing of life's accidents in the black branches.
I watched it die, bit by bit, this year. I watched
its sap dry up, its blossoms fade, until rot
sunk into its trunk and soggy roots, until
it became only the shape of its death.
Its glistening boughs reaching toward
what life is gathering to sing its wet stems.
The rain is ending. I can see the dark clouds
parting into a loosening blue. You are
gone from me, living in a distant country
while I await you here, watching this apple
tree fall into ruin. And to look at all this
but not think of loneliness is difficult, for
we come to know the limits of who we are
through those we love, and when they leave
we have only absence to make its home in us
like a chickadee's call, or your sweet voice --
what is speaking, here and now, in the rain.
-- Chris Banks
* * *
Night-time: the walker,
hearing a sound, turned round to see
an oak tree in pursuit.
Stopped and waited for it. The oak
proceeded dragging on raw roots
still shedding earth, wriggling long serpentine limbs
down the metalled road,
an awkward mermaid thrusting forward,
its crown too broad, brushing against
and having reached the night walker
it stopped to lean against the lamp post
push hair aside.
Behind the hair an oak tree's face looked out.
Huge face of moss. Perhaps. Or something like.
The night walker felt his own
contours grow slack,
his dissolving coastline swimming in fog,
like one darkening
in a hidden tarn in a forest,
this was the face he reflected.
Both paused, took breath.
There were birds' nests in the oak's hair,
and in them, sleeping birds, unaware
because the matter was urgent.
It stood there motionless and urgent
like a news item in oak form,
which stales, uninterpreted.
Let fall its curtain of hair.
Turned round. set off. Strange-footed.
It took its nests and birds
and before the solidifying eyes
of the night walker
neon signs sprinkled light on it,
and melted back into the hole in the ground
which was ready to receive it.
-- Agnes Nemes Nagy
(translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes)
* * *
"[Wind in bare vines . . . ]"
Wind in bare vines
rifling the flowerpot
the shattered pine from
the tulips thrust
standards out of walnut
trash and what now
crazes the gardenside
elms a neighborhood
you come to starved
shy at the door I
wish for this
world I did not welcome
-- Emily Wilson
* * *
"Recipe for Cold Perfume Pills"
Seven springs of peony,
Gathered when the spring is rainy,
Twelve of lotus, but take care --
Cut them in an August glare,
Nine of lilies, and remember,
Pick them only in September,
Five times five of the white plum flower,
Five times five of these, and more.
Three che'in of rain (but only the rain
That falls on the day of Rain Begins),
Seven che'in of dew (but only the drops
Gathered on the morning of White Dew),
Twelve che'in of frost (but only the rime
Gathered on the night of Frost is Fallen),
Five che'in of snow (but only the flakes
Gathered at the dawn of Light is Snow).
then knead the shadow of this substance
Into pills. sing, then rinse,
Then drop these pills in a porcelain jar.
Bury the jar beneath a flowering tree,
Dig for it by the light of a star,
One small pill will set you free,
And such a fragrance on your breath
Will sweeten, maybe hoodwink, death.
-- Anne Wilkinson
* * *
Plenty of space here, you've been able to
stretch up and spread your crown
But you stand alone.
When the storms come, you have
no one to lean on.
--Olav H. Hauge
(translated from the Norwegian by Robin Fulton)
* * *
"Ivy on the Field Locust"
Some nights we lay on our bedsheets
and listened for a breeze in bare starlight.
How still we could stay and not go to sleep . . .
And some nights we slipped the witness window
to gather in secrecy as in grief
on the ground at the foot of one locust,
brothers, only a few feet higher
than we dead, whom we knew to be sleepers.
Among leaves the locust was large, supple,
yet firm enough to hold shape in the hand,
heart-shaped, the scent of new dust, as a fan.
A farmer's field will always have one tree
like an outpost for cattle to gather beneath,
come rainstorm, or too great to cut,
a week's worth of worry when there's
no time to waste, as this one must have been,
rippling with ivy that's all that's still living,
a few stickers, blunt limb-stubs, twenty feet
of trunk -- the ivy swaddles it in high summer sun
like wet leather. Who is holding up whom?
What breeze carried us back
to a room with a handful of leaves?
When I died in your arms, love, I felt small
and safe as a child under trees swinging
low limbs over the world lying down.
We lay in our one bed, month after month.
Each fever was a blessing, light kiss
of damp wind, and the sympathetic sweat . . .
You watched as from windows and fanned me
by hand. You freshened cool cloths for my face.
Who can stir without stirring the dead?
Sometimes a single finger burned through me
like a limb-stroke of lightning. then we slept.
See how the bean field broadens past the tree,
how the rows are a quiltwork persisting?
Like green bone the locust with ivy is
shoved up, out of the earth, a lustre of leaves
like new skin or a fever's worth of dying,
then healing, surprising strength. I wish
I could sing a green song or carry you in branches
like light from a star behind sudden new clouds.
Let me show you a tree. It's lived two lives --
one for the brothers giathered in silence
in the dark, patting the ground around them,
one for a leaf, like a healer's hand, and the rain.
-- David Baker
* * *
"Wood Not Yet Out"
closed and containing everything, the land
leaning all round to block it from the wind,
a squirrel sprinting in startles and sees
sections of distance tilted through the trees
and where you jump the fence a flap of sacking
does for a stile, you walk through webs, the cracking
bushtwigs break their secrecies, the sun
vanishes up, instantly come and gone.
once in, you hardly notice as you move,
the wood keeps lifting up its hope, I love
to stand among the last trees listening down
to the releasing branches where I've been --
the rain, thinking I've gone, crackles the air
and calls by name the leaves that aren't yet there
-- Alice Oswald
* * *
with clumps of palm-trees,
bright in the canebrakes,
dark-disked under ceibas.
uprooted by hurricane,
and suspended and restored.
and return out of kindness.
The sky talks to Siboney
through palm-tree throats,
and Siboney answers
in a landslide of palmtrees.
if I can't see them I go sour.
I take my blue siesta
in a long flight of storks,
waking if they waken me
with their whisper of so many arrows.
find me, take me, carry me off.
The palmtree rocks my breathing,
from palms I learn slow walking.
Passage and flight of palmgroves,
slow ecstacy of Earth.
In the harsh sun they go by, go by,
and I go by with them.
And the fleets of them carry me
the way the tide does,
bear me off with them, drunk with wind
and all my powers drunken . . .
-- Gabriela Mistral
(translated from the Spanish by Ursula K. Le Guin)
* * *
"You Fall Into Light"
Someone loves you in the brief glance
the moon is when she rises. Look at the light
as it holds the needles of the solitary pine,
the single feather above the sudden eye
that is an owl at rest, her prey
hanging from a fist of claws. Your face
is salt and water. an argument for dream
is as brief as the glance the moon gives.
It is the single touch you reach for.
Behind you your lover sleeps
and you are standing on the back steps.
Every moment is as brief as this. The owl
rises on soft wings. the moon falls.
-- Patrick Lane
* * *
Trees have been witness
to my life, have been emblem.
I've wept my griefs
into the high darkness
of their arms, cheek against
a cone's rough open scales.
The seeds that took
in my year, 1950,
have grown a foot a year.
My eye walks out
along a branch shining
in rain, and looks back
from a long way away.
In the twilight,
night's shadow means sleep,
and no one wants to.
We all want to stay out
wild for another half hour
with some new kids.
-- Chase Twichell