Here is another poem about cutting down a tree.
So think like a tree, he said, but all I
could do was remember the elms of my
childhood marked with large orange Xs that said
this tree is diseased and must be cut down.
I’ve been watching this elm in my yard two
years as it towers over the lesser
maple and ash trees, drinking in the light,
elbowing aside its comrades while they
stand content to play the understudies,
showing up every year in hopeful green
robes, knowing no one will ever pay much
attention to them. The nuthatch beeps down
the trunk of only the elm, the blue jays
scream their backyard profanities from its
branches alone. Briefly in fall, perhaps,
the maple’s flames engage our jaded eyes.
There, I’ve already erred, talking about
plants as though canopy were consciousness.
Try again: fifteen feet up a split limb
grows in two directions. If it breaks off
it will smash my deck, cripple another
tree, or snap in two my daughter’s swing set.
And so the elm waits for the tree men to
take it down.
Waits? All it has ever done
is wait, but waiting suggests pause with cause,
anticipation, expectation. Try again.
It stands there oblivious, green,
in fall, its limbs thrusting sixty feet up
Today I arrive home, notice
extra space in the sky. In the back yard
I see the elm is gone. I count twenty-
two rings on the stump, a small dry sadness
rippling through me like undulations of
a pool in which a stone is dropped. Twenty-
two burgeoning summers reduced to logs
for burning and chips under children’s feet,
sawdust. Pondering the economics
of prudence, I try to prune my regret.
*From the CD: Tree Magic: Nature’s Antennas, SunShine Press Publications, Longmont, CO, 2004
Printed with permission of the author.
This tree is alive when it is cut down, a different circumstance from the dead tree in the last post, although each felling causes grief and loss. The poet here takes on a conversational tone and the conversation is with himself–giving the poem an interesting slant and a personal, intimate feeling. The narrator struggles to come to terms with taking down this towering tree elbowing aside its comrades while they/ stand content to play understudies. He ponders the economics of prudence while trying to prune his regret.
This tree has personality, it’s big and strong, doesn’t mind crowding out the other trees in the yard, who know that they stand in the shadow of the larger tree. Even the birds prefer it’s branches. The decision to take down such a monolithic tree could never be easy, even though it is posing danger to the humans underneath its branches. This tree is almost a father figure, a symbol of patience and grandness– definitely not weakness or danger. This is the paradox of life. Strong becomes weak, love and even protection can turn into danger.
The poet grapples with his understanding of trees and the world of nature–childhood memories of diseased elms, honor and admiration for the quiet twenty years of growth “his” elm has given to the world. He tries to understand what it would be like to be a tree, realizes this is impossible (There, I’ve already erred, talking about
plants as though canopy were consciousness) then comes to terms with the necessity to cut the tree, despite loss and regret. Twenty/-two burgeoning summers reduced to logs/for burning and chips under children’s feet, /sawdust. The poem is his elegy and tribute to the nameless, beloved, patient, prideful tree, the elm in his yard.
In using this poem to inspire your own writing, you may remember natural habitats of your childhood or in your adult life that have changed, been cut down, burned, or otherwise lost. If you have been involved in the decision or responsibility to take down a tree, what was your experience? Did you delay the decision because it was too painful? How do trees affect you and what do they mean to you? What are their personalities?
Try using Steven Luebke’s idea of writing your inner dialogue into your poem.
As with the previous poem, loss, grief, and regret can be very healing to write about.
I am writing this post on April 26th, which has been dubbed as “Poem in Your Pocket Day”. We are asked to carry a poem in our pocket and offer to read it to whomever we would like, from friends to family to strangers. This sounds like a really great idea to me! Find a poem you love, perhaps one with a special healing message, and share it with others as you feel moved to do. Why save this for just one day? Sounds like an occupation for anytime hope is called for.