Of Poetry: Losing a tree, losing one’s bearings | Lifestyles

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Fleda Brown



Our tree man is coming this week to cut down a very dead tree with mushrooms growing everywhere like little flying saucers. And another perfectly good beech (I think) that he says has beech blight. He will try to convince me that the cedars in front of the cottage, riddled with big woodpecker holes, should fall too. He’s going to tell me they’re a danger to the cottage. But I’ll hold on here. I’m sick of losing trees, always, that’s why I noticed this poem by Joanna Klink. If you have ever lived in the shade of a large tree and then lost the tree, you will understand this poem.

The 90-year-old blue spruce was uprooted by strong winds. What a shock to lose such a tree! Dusk falls every night, writes the poet, so why should it be surprising if other things fall? Like trees. Like this tree. I notice that she chose short lines, the feeling of a tall thing in the form of the poem.

When the tree fell, it became “unknowable”, she said. More familiar, more the tree with the crows and the mist and the falling needles and pinecones. Then the poem deviates and deepens: “It is enough / that we crave objects, / that we always seek / a way / out of pain”. I think she was initially reacting to annoyance at the falling pine cones. We are still trying to free ourselves from all kinds of pain, but in the meantime, what is beyond all that, the tree itself – both mysterious and perfect – is right before us, “infinitely worthy”.

Somewhere there is a tree like the lost one, but for now she has planted a small lime tree. Nothing could replace the big spruce, so she won’t even try. I am touched by his final lines, imagining a large tree like the lost one standing somewhere in a field, a tree made entirely of hovering.

I know what she means. You don’t notice its tree-like character as it grows. It becomes, as are the hemlocks that surround us here at the cottage, simply great hovering. You feel them as a presence. It’s true, “nothing will hold me like this”. They hold me and the speaker of this poem upright even as they hover above. Restraint is emotional. Somehow we understand but cannot explain, they support us.

Joanna Klink received an MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Klink said, “In the poems I try to find my bearings in a world that sometimes seems distant and incomplete and stricken with noise. I would like to place myself in a field of deep attention, and out of this attention to feel and consider with a keener understanding what is there. I write to be less desperately myself, to feel something more expansive than where I’m speaking from.

Klink was the Briggs-Copeland Poet of Harvard University and teaches at the Michener Center for Writers in Austin, Texas.

Fleda Brown of Traverse City is a professor emeritus at the University of Delaware and a former Delaware Poet Laureate. To learn more about his work, visit www.fledabrown.com. To subscribe to her bi-monthly Wobbly Bicycle blog, contact her on her site.

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