Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.
“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself.
Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the
air and giving fresh strength to our people.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”
― Herman Hesse
“Listen to the trees as they sway in the wind.
Their leaves are telling secrets.
Their bark sings songs of olden days as it grows around the trunks.
And their roots give names to all things.
Their language has been lost.
But not the gestures.”
— Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration
Trees are becoming more important all the time. They produce almost one-third of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere. Trees are a major source of food, building materials, paper, medicine, cloth, and hundreds of other things we use every day.
For many people, their first bed is a cradle or crib made of wood, and their last resting place is a wooden coffin. Children climb trees, adults find it restful to sit in their shade, and we often plant trees in memory of loved ones.
The first Arbor Day in the U.S. was held in Nebraska in April, 1872, and the first U.S. National Forests were established in 1891.
Trees, as the poet H.D. tells us, “bring summer and ripe fruits.”
Woman Waving to Trees
by Dorothea Tanning
Not that anyone would
notice it at first.
I have taken to marveling
at the trees in our park.
One thing I can tell you:
they are beautiful
and they know it.
They are also tired,
hundreds of years
stuck in one spot—
When I am under them,
they feel my gaze,
watch me wave my foolish
hand, and envy the joy
of being a moving target.
Loungers on the benches
begin to notice.
One to another,
“Well, you see all kinds…”
Most of them sit looking
down at nothing as if there
was truly nothing else to
look at until there is
that woman waving up
to the branching boughs
of these old trees. Raise your
heads, pals, look high,
you may see more than
you ever thought possible,
up where something might
be waving back, to tell her
she has seen the marvelous.
“Woman Waving to Trees” from Coming to That, © 2011 by Dorothea Tanning – Graywolf Press
Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012) American painter, sculptor, memoirist, and poet, who fell in love in the 1940s with German artist Max Ernst over a chessboard, and they were married in a double wedding with Man Ray and Juliet Browner. Her collections of poetry include Coming to That and A Table of Content. She is also the author of two memoirs, Birthday (1986) and Between Lives: An Artist and Her World (2001); and a novel, Chasm: A Weekend. She once wrote: “it’s hard to be always the same person.”
The Banyan Tree
by Rabindranath Tagore
O you shaggy-headed banyan tree standing on the bank of the pond,
have you forgotten the little child, like the birds that have
nested in your branches and left you?
Do you not remember how he sat at the window and wondered at
the tangle of your roots and plunged underground?
The women would come to fill their jars in the pond, and your
huge black shadow would wriggle on the water like sleep struggling to wake up.
Sunlight danced on the ripples like restless tiny shuttles weaving golden tapestry.
Two ducks swam by the weedy margin above their shadows,
and the child would sit still and think.
He longed to be the wind and blow through your resting
branches, to be your shadow and lengthen with the day on the water,
to be a bird and perch on your topmost twig, and to float like
those ducks among the weeds and shadows.
“The Banyan Tree” from Collected Poems and Plays of Rabindranath Tagore, © 1936 by Rabindranath Tagore – republished by Rupa Pulisher in 2002
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was born in British India’s Calcutta (now Kolkata). He was a prolific writer who had a major influence on Bengali literature and music. Tagore was the first Asian author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1913. His brief poems in the collection Fireflies have been widely translated.
The Sound of the Trees
by Robert Frost
I wonder about the trees.
Why do we wish to bear
Forever the noise of these
More than another noise
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day
Till we lose all measure of pace,
And fixity in our joys,
And acquire a listening air.
They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.
“The Sound of the Trees” is in the public domain.
Robert Frost (1874 – 1963) is one of the most celebrated American poets. He was born in San Francisco, but lived most of his life in the Eastern U.S., much of it in Vermont and Massachusetts. He published numerous volumes of poetry, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry four times: in 1924 for New Hampshire, for Collected Poems in 1931, for A Further Range in 1937, and in 1943 for A Witness Tree.
The Eucalyptus Tree
by Mahtem Shiferraw
after Susan Hahn
I long for it on quiet nights and call it
home. It stands tall and muscular
above the mountains. It sees me
but does not flinch. It feeds me
honey and wild winds. It calls me
child, but I do not hear.
It leaves a balm for blistering skin;
what comes after a cry, or bleeding —
its aroma, like autumn, like rain,
standing green, translucent thing
between my father and I, and the
ghosts of Gojiam. It sees us bleeding,
bleeding be. We carve wombs throughout
its roots and rest our little bodies. The rings
of fire that embrace us are blue with fear.
Everywhere we go, we smell of death
and something sweet —
“The Eucalyptus Tree” © 2016 by Mahtem Shiferraw
Mahtem Shiferraw is a poet, visual artist and cultural activist, who grew up in Ethiopia and Eritrea, and received an MFA in Creative Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She won the 2015 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poetry. Her chapbook, Behind Walls & Glass, was published in 2016, and her first book, Fuchsia, also came out in 2016, followed by Your Body Is War in 2019. She is the founder of Anaphora Literary Arts, a nonprofit organization that advocates for writers and artists of color. Her new collection, Nomenclatures of Invisibility, will be published in 2023.
by Nathaniel Bellows
Is it agony that has bleached them to such beauty? Their stand is at the edge of our property—white spires like fingers, through which the deer emerge with all the tentative grace of memory. Your father
loved these trees. When you try to imagine his childhood, it is all old footage, in a similar scheme: black and white. But he died, and all you know is that they reminded him of home. As they remind you he is gone
to a country as unimaginable as his life before you were born, before the woman who would be your mother lived as she does now—lost, wandering at the edge of her life’s whitened gates.
After a storm, one birch fell in the field, an ivory buttress collapsed across the pasture. Up close there is pink skin beneath the paper, green lichen ascending in settlements of scales. In the dark yard it beckons you back
to snow, the static of the past—your father, a boy, speaking in a tongue you never knew, calling down from the branches. Or the letter you wrote to a mother you weren’t allowed to miss—black ink scrawled across the white pulp of the page:
I am very lonely without you.
“Russian Birch” from Why Speak?, © 2007 by Nathaniel Bellows – W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Nathaniel Bellows is the author of the novel On This Day, and Nan: A Novel in Short Stories, as well as the poetry collection Why Speak? He is also a visual artist, a songwriter, and a musician. Bellows lives in New York City.
The Tree Agreement
by Elise Paschen
The neighbor calls the Siberian Elm
a “weed” tree, demands we hack
it down, says the leaves overwhelm
his property, the square backyard.
He’s collar-and-tie. A weed tree?
Branches screen buildings, subway tracks,
his patch of yard. We disagree,
claim back the sap, heartwood, wild bark.
He declares the tree “hazardous.”
We shelter under leaf-hoard, crossway
for squirrels, branch house for sparrows, jays.
The balcony soaks up the shade.
Chatter-song drowns out cars below.
Sun branches down. Leaves overwhelm.
The tree will stay. We tell him “no.”
Root deep through pavement, Elm.
© 2016 by Elise Paschen, first appeared in Poetry magazine’s January 2016 issue
Elise Paschen (1959 – ) is an American poet, anthologist, educator, member of the Osage nation, and daughter of renowned prima ballerina Maria Tallchief. She is the co-founder and co-editor of Poetry in Motion, a program which places poetry posters in subways and buses across the country. Dr. Paschen teaches in the MFA Writing Program at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her poetry collections are Houses: Coasts (1985), Infidelities (1996), Bestiary (2009), and The Nightlife (2017). She was the Executive Director of the Poetry Society of America (1988-2001), and has edited numerous anthologies, including Reinventing the Enemy’s Language: Contemporary Native Women’s Writings of North America (1997).
This poem by Hone Tuwhare warns of nuclear power’s danger to the Tree, a symbol of Life in
No Ordinary Sun
by Hone Tuwhare
Tree let your arms fall:
raise them not sharply in supplication
to the bright enhaloed cloud.
Let your arms lack toughness and
resiliance for this is no mere axe
to blunt nor fire to smother.
Your sap shall not rise again
to the moons pull.
No more incline a deferential head
to the wind’s talk, or stir
to the tickle of coursing rain.
Your former shaginess shall not be
wreathed with the delightful flight
of birds nor shield
nor cool the adour of unheeding
lovers from the monstrous sun.
Tree let your naked arms fall
nor extend vain entreaties to the radiant ball.
This is no gallant monsoon’s flash,
no dashing trade wind’s blast.
The fading green of your magic
emanations shall not make pure again
these polluted skies . . . for this
is no ordinary sun.
in the shadowless mountains
the white plains and
the drab sea floor
your end at last is written
“No Ordinary Sun” from No Ordinary Sun, © 1964/1998 by Hone Tuwhare – Randon House NZ
Hone Tuwhare (1922–2008) was given the name of a Māori chief of the Ngāpuhi tribe, leader of a Māori rebellion over treaty violations and economic hardship. At fifteen, Tuwhare was apprenticed as a New Zealand Railways boilermaker, and became a part of the trade union movement. He was an organizer of the first Māori Writers and Artists hui (assembly) and walked in the Māori Land March in 1975. As an outspoken activist for trade unionism, civil rights, the environment, and against nuclear weapons, he was sometimes in hot water with the New Zealand government. In 1957, the Minister of Māori Affairs censored one of his early poems because Tuwhare was a card-carrying Communist, but when his first poetry collection, No Ordinary Sun, was published in 1964, it established Tuwhare as a major Māori poet. In 1999, Hone Tuware was named as New Zealand’s second Te Mata Poet Laureate.