Oldest trees in cemeteries,
thousand years old, signs of immortality,
of death. They root in the cadaver’s mouth,
drawing souls, through transpiration, skyward.
In French, it’s “if,” a tree
that grows too slow to die,
deco line, intertwining thigh,
lumpengargoyle, golem’s yawn,
and behind that door,
a circle bench for twelve,
a table, gouged-out room, black
as ear-plug silence. The cell slams shut.
The Crowhurst Yew
Once I knew it well.
Clouds flew on wings.
Trees had doors.
Then I forgot.
Radios and CDs.
Crows on power lines.
Maybe it’s the dimming
of my eyes, the dulling
of my teeth, how my feet
ache. Being all alone.
I turn to simple ways,
knock on that ill-hung door,
open inward to the yew,
sit dark where roots splay,
and ask you, come back
from the bone yard.
Beside me, ghost man,
in the yew love this day.
In some tribes, infants who died were
thought to have been cheated of
life. They were buried inside a tree
in order to share its living.
Wombed cold in a cavity of Black Cottonwood
a child too young to catch a loose soul from the wind,
you were given to the secrets
of trees, sealed with tendrils and rough bark,
to take your living moments from wood, to gain
moisture and the small company of beetles,
to hear the sap as it courses
along cambium rivers, those tunnels near your left ear
that carry tomorrow from deep drinking roots
up along your sheltered body
to the knuckled joints of branches.
Long ago your flesh fell prey
to the mandibles of scavenging things, and cold,
and high winds flayed your past from you,
leaving alabaster bones doubled in a Q,
in the polished hollow of this tree.
The furrowed trunk closed round,
carrying bits of you upward toward resinous buds.
Someday, long from now,
when your hollow weakens the tree beyond standing,
when it breaks at the knees, where you lie curled
in quiet, then will your old bones fall out
into leaf rustles and you will be seen again,
a clutter of bone parts, no longer connected
but reluctant to let go.
I am more of sinewed bark than furling
Leaf. I turn and return myself into and
Out of my own ancient limbs, trunk burling
Beneath the weight of all the years I can
Recall. I am all that I remember:
I am bird nests built within the spring green
Curtains that my branches made in former
Times. I am another day’s unforeseen
Tragedy as all the woods I was so
Much a part of fell to flame. I survived.
I am roots set a thousand years ago.
I am low limbs chopped by men not alive
Anymore. I am age old memories
Of years held in branches, turned a part of me.
The yews of Wakehurst sleep on mossy
mounds at the edge of a deep forest cut
waiting for the world to weave visionary
light through tubular roots.
The yews wait with the patience of trees,
the pull of water through roots that penetrate
seven worlds, and the silence of ancient,
interlocking wills. Do not come in darkness,
stay clear of the webs of dream.
If you approach before sunset, tread
with care, holding the grace of your own quiet
thoughts as your breath mingles with theirs,
and waters of your blood surge with the moon
pull of watchers whose flesh is air and fire and earth.
A tree must be old to be empty.
What stays in the undemanding center?
Year after year stretching the outer further out,
the heartwood slowly dying, all that must be
released, as though space itself were necessary
to help the tree claim its place in the world.
What lives there? Humans come, step inside.
Do they sit on the bench they've brought
and tucked into the hollow? Do they hear
in their minds the tune that soothes them?
There's room for all the thoughts in the world,
there's room for the meanings of words.
Do parents bring their children and tell them,
“Duck in here and feel how air can hold you”?
Of course they do.
The Linton Yew
You have lived so long,
only the stars remember
what you know—the families
of trees who fell before you,
processions of animals and insects
and birds, and humans with
their strange church of stone—
you bore witness to them all
and replied with leaves,
your canopy expanding
as your body hollowed
and began to fail. The sky
intervened, helped you
send down a root from
your crown, guide it
deep into earth to form
a new trunk—now firm
at the heart of gnarled
and twisted time, shards
of sun-dappled bole
splayed like scallop-shells
around your revival.
The Linton Yew
Pray it is