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

a return to the strange idea of continuous living despite the mess of us

Instructions for these days, and for all days. I could have filled this entire month with selections by one of my favorite contemporary poets, Ada Limón. If you have a moment after you read this one, I recommend you explore some of her other incredible poems I’ve posted over the years.

jasmine.jpg
Neighborhood walks, spring 2020. Photo by me.

“Instructions on Not Giving Up”

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

from The Carrying 

Their greenness is a kind of grief.

After you read this Philip Larkin (1922-1985) poem, hear him recite it to you.

“The Trees”

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.