So much of America belongs to the trees

In honor of Earth Day, here is a beautifully thoughtful poem from one of my favorite contemporary poets, Ada Limón (1976-).

an illustration of trees and roots
Art by Kristina Closs

“Of Roots & Roamers”

Have you ever noticed how the trees
change from state to state? Not all
at once, of course, more like a weaver
gradually weaving in another color
until the old trees become scarce
and new trees offer a shaded kingdom
all their own. Before I knew the names
of towns or roads, I could recognize
places by the trees: Northern California’s
smooth-skinned madrone, looming eucalyptus,
fuzzy fragrant flowers of the acacia. So
much of America belongs to the trees.
Even when we can’t agree on much,
there’s still the man returning from his
late shift at the local bar, who takes
a long look at the bird’s nest in the maple,
pats the trunk like a friend’s forearm,
mumbles something about staying safe
and returns home. And the girl whose
slapdash tree fort we can see from our blurry
window, how she stands there to wave
at a world she does not even know
the half of yet. My grandmother once
complained she couldn’t see much
of America on her cross country trip because
it was all just trees. Ask her, she’ll laugh as she
tells you. Still, without the bother of licenses
or attention to a state line, a border, they
just grow where they’ve grown all their lives:
there, a small stand of white pine arrives,
there, a redwood begins to show itself along
the coastline, water oaks in the south, willows.
Their power is in not moving, so we must move
to them.

from The Carrying

All day wondering if I’ve become useless

illustration of an osprey carrying sticks in the air
Art by Kristina Closs

“Brocade”

by Jane Hirshfield

All day wondering
if I’ve become useless.

All day the osprey
white and black,
carrying
big dry sticks without leaves.

Late, I say to my pride,

You think you’re the feathered part
of this don’t you?

We love life if we find a way to it.

Ramadan Kareem to those of you who are observing this month. Here’s a poem from the late great Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish (1942-2008), whose words I grew up with and who has long been a touchstone of mine.

Image of a heart surrounded by jasmine with minarets and palm trees coming out of it
Art by Kristina Closs

“And We Love Life”

And we love life if we find a way to it.
We dance in between martyrs and raise a minaret for violet or palm trees.

We love life if we find a way to it.
And we steal from the silkworm a thread to build a sky and fence in this departure.

We open the garden gate for the jasmine to go out as a beautiful day on the streets.

We love life if we find a way to it.

And we plant, where we settle, some fast growing plants, and harvest the dead.
We play the flute like the color of the faraway, sketch over the dirt corridor a neigh.
We write our names one stone at a time, O lightning make the night a bit clearer.

We love life if we find a way to it…

translated from Arabic by Fady Joudah