Requiem for a tree

Splitting trunk, splitting ranks

Leafless veins in the overstory/ fracturing a grey mirror of sky/ courted by the god of tempests/ An aeolian serenade he etches on hard slate of mossy rooftops/ but saves a harsh caress for the Cedar siding in the east/ loose wind chimes outside a kitchen, west/ Umbrellas on a porch, raised without ceremony/ forgotten doors, slammed// His searing rage, through needling rain/ amused at displays of renegade branches splitting trunk/ breaking ranks/ at his contemptuous affections the size of an angry gale//

Her tears are snowmelt, where she digs her heels into sodden earth/ Lay encrusted there large flakes/ coalesced into the solidity of a winter left too long/ retreating now in warm injury to encircle her, contemplate/ pain of wood and dead hurt from a distance// An observant arena, watching her bleed like only a tree can/ knowing little of the understory/ sisterly tales of root seeking root/ sparing commiserations to salve the wound/ whispering healing prayers through single cells of contact//

Enzymes that signal your human hurts are not hers/ synapses of your human grief are foreign too/ and unrelated, the mechanics of your psychosomatic afflictions/ but you can imagine it like thjs/ in the simple way your science defines it/ A symphony of molecules and atoms, laid like lamentations/ sheet music in papery tomes, made strangely from the carcasses of such like her/ singing of pain of heart wood, amid frosty gales//

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Notes:
We lost a tree in the wind gusts on Christmas Eve, which were at 65 mph. One of the heavy branches split the trunk in a strange fashion to reveal heart wood. It made me sad because I find it difficult to face the loss of trees as something that takes years in the making. This is my tribute to the fall of a beautiful giant.

I have used male gender for the wind or Aeolus, inspired that I am by the Greek pantheon these wintry days, where the war between the Titans and the Olympians makes for warm viewing. It is also noteworthy, the tree nymphs, (Dryads or Oak spirits) cited in the Greek mythologies, but I would like to consider the tree as the universal feminine in this poem.

If you have a penchant for the botanical, you may find this study on the communication of trees in the understory, quite interesting.

Elhakeem et al (2018); Above ground mechanical stimuli affect below ground plant-plant communication.

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0195646

For those familiar with the book, Overstory, by Richard Powers, he writes in one story of a fictional botanist, Dr. Patricia Westerford, based on perhaps the real life Ecologist Suzanne W. Simard, whose work involved studying how trees communicate with one another using the Mycorrhizal network. Trees are also known to reach out to each other and form a supportive network underground.

Subterranean

The woods are pensive, dark and deep
coursing like subterranean whispers
for miles; seeking, reaching, grasping
root chasing root, entwined, twisted,
contorted, conflicted, or spread eagle.


Have you noticed: the sun,
remains but a distant memory
and the murmur of the core is what
she seeks, the tree you hold clasped
to your heart, distracted as you are
by crimson temptations of Spring.


Is that the rising affluence of sultry
summer heat, that colours you green
like the leaves, or the tempestuous
Autumn with her hurricane winds which
float you away on sensate empiricisms.


Finally, when in true Frostian fashion,
the Overstory retreats in icy chill
to the bowels of the Earth,
then, in that moment we find her
upside down or maybe right side in,
for the forest lies beneath,
a singular organism …


…pulsing, dreaming, biding time
as she slumbers, knowing well,
that one day the globe
would be engulfed in a root ball
and all the pebbles and the mud
would be but memories in space
like it does in over watered flower
pots licking window ledges,
surviving potted prisons.


What will we say then?
That we knew it all along.

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Notes:

The Overstory, a book by Richard Powers features the story of a fictional botanist, Dr. Patricia Westerford, based on perhaps the real life Ecologist Suzanne W. Simard whose work involved studying how trees communicate with one another using the Mycorrhizal network. It is the story that drew me to the book and perhaps the only story that struck me as poignant.

Trees in temperate regions retreat within themselves in fall towards winter. Trees are also known to reach out to each other and form a supportive network underground. The forest network pulses in a singularly strange fashion, we try to emulate these traits in our primitive human ways, perhaps anthropomorphise the trees sometimes to imagine ourselves being superlatively exemplary in our feelings and emotions. I do not know how else to explain this.

Here’s to trees and hoping that we all aim to be like them ~ complex, complicatedly intuitive, harbouring a sensate and fluid intelligence, adaptable, resilient, beautiful in every way. The understory seems to hold the key to the forest, something about what lies beneath, like in an iceberg.

As we chase incessant production and consumption above ground, let us spare some thought to what really makes our planet habitable, our emotions colourful, the sentience in our being and our lives worth living. I am not sure it would be okay to live outside the world of life giving plants.