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

I come into the peace of wild things

In honor of Earth Day, I’m sharing a poem by the amazing writer and environmentalist Wendell Berry (1934-) that many of you are probably familiar with but can never be read too much.  And if you’re jonesin’ for some more Earth Day verse, here are the Walt Whitman poems I usually post.

wendell-berry

“The Peace of Wild Things”

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

The earth does not withhold, it is generous enough

Per my tradition of Earth Days past, let’s listen to Walt Whitman exalt in this earth–and our relationship to it–in this excerpt from “A Song of the Rolling Earth” from Leaves of Grass.  If you’d like to read the full text of the poem, here you go.

1024px-walt_whitman_-_george_collins_cox

“A Song of the Rolling Earth

1

A SONG of the rolling earth, and of words according,
Were you thinking that those were the words, those upright lines?
those curves, angles, dots?
No, those are not the words, the substantial words are in the
ground and sea,
They are in the air, they are in you.

Were you thinking that those were the words, those delicious sounds
out of your friends’ mouths?
No, the real words are more delicious than they.

Human bodies are words, myriads of words,
(In the best poems re-appears the body, man’s or woman’s, well-
shaped, natural, gay,
Every part able, active, receptive, without shame or the need of
shame.)

Air, soil, water, fire—those are words,
I myself am a word with them—my qualities interpenetrate with
theirs—my name is nothing to them,
Though it were told in the three thousand languages, what would
air, soil, water, fire, know of my name?

A healthy presence, a friendly or commanding gesture, are words,
sayings, meanings,
The charms that go with the mere looks of some men and women,
are sayings and meanings also.

The workmanship of souls is by those inaudible words of the earth,
The masters know the earth’s words and use them more than
audible words.

Amelioration is one of the earth’s words,
The earth neither lags nor hastens,
It has all attributes, growths, effects, latent in itself from the jump,
It is not half beautiful only, defects and excrescences show just as
much as perfections show.

The earth does not withhold, it is generous enough,
The truths of the earth continually wait, they are not so conceal’d
either,

They are calm, subtle, untransmissible by print,
They are imbued through all things conveying themselves willingly,
Conveying a sentiment and invitation, I utter and utter,
I speak not, yet if you hear me not of what avail am I to you?
To bear, to better, lacking these of what avail am I?

(Accouche! accouchez!
Will you rot your own fruit in yourself there?
Will you squat and stifle there?)

The earth does not argue,
Is not pathetic, has no arrangements,
Does not scream, haste, persuade, threaten, promise,
Makes no discriminations, has no conceivable failures,
Closes nothing, refuses nothing, shuts none out,
Of all the powers, objects, states, it notifies, shuts none out.