Hope Jahren, who wrote the book Lab Girl, said that we’ve used plants throughout our history to help us tell our stories. Since we’re between Earth Day and Arbor Day, some tree poems. At least they pretend to be about trees.
Constance Quarterman Bridges began writing poetry in 1987 after she retired from the US Treasury Department. Her first book won the 2005 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Passager published this poem by Constance Quarterman Bridges in its 2004 poetry contest issue: “To the Walnut Tree We Cut Down In the Fall of 2002.”
Because you curved over our house, clogged gutters
and grew black eruptions like scabs, we cut you down.
Your fruit littered our driveway, rolled like marbles
under the postman’s feet. We could not see your walnuts
at night against blackness of the driveway
and were afraid of falling.
We did not gather your fruit. It is just too hard
to crack easily. We didn’t try.
I ignored your green shade, took your life.
Old and scarred you were in the way.
Maybe we could have pruned your aggression
changed the way you were.
We sawed you into pieces, but did not shred to mulch.
We stacked you in cords to wait for winter and our fire.
I never told you I have a fear of winter.
Do you remember the summer of 1941?
You were young then. You held the children’s swing,
heard their laughter.
Do you remember that winter of 1941 and the war?
There have been other wars since.
The boy on the swing did not return from a desert war.
I fear this winter. There may be another war.
I fear losing his son, my grandson.
This uncertainty is a hand squeezing my heart.
Soldiers have been unloaded and wait for fire.
I have never been certain about cutting down.
There is always a question of what to do after.
“To the Walnut Tree We Cut Down In the Fall of 2002.” Constance Quarterman Bridges.
Michael Fulop is a Baltimore psychiatrist. Here’s his poem “The Dream with Trees In It.”
The dream showed a late autumn landscape.
It had many trees, but with distances between them.
It had a gray sky.
The trees were bare, absolutely leafless,
which gave them a kind of purity.
I knew that every tree in the dream had a meaning.
They were like words in an old forgotten language.
They were like symbols with their patterns of branching.
It is possible the meanings they had were simple,
such as wind or body of water or the moon rising.
The scene changed then to the shore of an ocean.
I stood on the sandy shore.
Trees grew from the surface of the ocean,
one here and one there, all the way to the horizon.
“The Dream with Trees In It.” Michael Fulop, from Passager’s Winter 2006 issue.
Passager co-editor Kendra Kopelke used to look at an old pine tree every morning that was outside the window of her writing studio. One day, the tree service came and cut it down. Here’s her poem “After the Old Pine Came Down This Morning.”
And now, after so many decades,
the tree has vanished,
like clouds vanish,
leaving the sky spotless.
A sparrow blasts through the new space
and sails into nowhere,
my anxious heart
rushes outside, alert
to the absence —
We were companions!
When it blocked my view,
it said, Sister, I am your view,
pull up a chair.
Early mornings, I heard every word it said
even when it seemed to ignore
reality. I watched
it come out from the darkness, into being,
and when the vines
climbed the trunk and dead branches,
laced the tree up in a bright green spring dress,
how could my eyes not be opened?
sent its death rattle across the sky,
a blur of green spins through time
and the tree falls through me,
in slow motion . . .
My bones rise up, up, awake.
“After the Old Pine Came Down This Morning.” Kendra Kopelke. We don’t usually feature work by Passager staff, but maybe it’s time to change that.
To subscribe to or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to passagerbooks.com. You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts, and various other podcast apps.
For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.