Here is another poem in the series of tree poems.
He was older than I expected–his wife
chirped like a girl on the telephone–
coarser, looked like nothing other
than the blunt fact that he was.
Stained overalls, square face, skin
alligatored from years in the sun.
I walked across the yard to shake hands.
“That’s the tree,” I said,
pointing to the lifeless birch.
“We kind of liked it. It was alive
when we bought the house two years ago.
I hate to cut a tree.”
The man raised his gaze and sniffed,
looking at the tree, started to lug
his chainsaw and a coil of rope.
“Need help?” I asked.
He shook his head and trotted up the slope.
I went back to be with my wife.
We liked the tree.
We watched him angle two notches
into its trunk so it would fall
away from the wires and windows,
then with a fierce swipe, he sliced
right through the middle.
It fell across the walkway
and he cut it into pieces for firewood.
When he finished I approached him.
He looked me over, cleared his throat.
“Twenty dollars?” I asked and he nodded.
I gave him two crisp bills
which he stuffed into the wide middle pocket.
He waved goodbye, then tossed his tools
into the truck and drove away.
“He didn’t say a word,” my wife said.
True, I thought, no words;
but I saw him gently touch the bark
for no reason
before making that first deep notch.
*From the CD: Tree Magic: Nature’s Antennas, SunShine Press Publications, Longmont, CO, 2004
Printed with permission of the author.
This poem elegantly tells the story of cutting down a well-liked tree. The spare poetic language fits the character of the tree-cutter who looked like nothing other/ than the blunt fact that he was. In this garden of simple narrative, images shine out like flower arrangements. The tree cutter has alligatored skin, cuts the tree with a fierce swipe gets paid in crisp bills.
Sound and silence are also highlighted in this poem. Because the tree-cutter never says a word, I found myself hearing the sounds of the story ring out, from the chirpy voice of the wife on the phone, the sniff of the tree-cutter as he surveys the tree, the chainsaw being lugged out of the truck, his feet hitting the ground as he trots up the slope, of course the chilling slice through the middle of the tree, the falling, the throat clearing as he waits for his money, and the sound of those crisp bills. In thinking about this more, I realized that I didn’t hear the sound of the chain-saw cutting down the tree. It’s more powerful to me that way–visualizing the act of slicing through the middle rather than hearing the saw cutting through.
The story is about human relationships to trees and trees relationships to humans. It’s interesting that the author emphasizes his and his wife’s like of the tree, while the end of the poem clearly points to the tree-cutters love of the tree. The poem becomes a spiritual story on the cycle of life, the taking down of trees that are dead– beautifully symbolized by the gentle touch on the bark by the tree-cutter before he takes the big slice.
This poem opens up many avenues of writing:
Silence and taciturnity, it’s value in the world of so much talking.
People you know who don’t talk much and how you feel around them or stories about them.
Watching trees being felled–what if the tree is dead or what if it is alive?
Death and dying of plants, animals, people, or machines, how life moves on, and stories about connections with people working in the care-taking professions (including doctors, nurses, or plumbers, carpenters and car mechanics).
A story, memory, event, person, or place that struck you vividly and stayed with you over time.