Trees Do Fly, Old father…

March 31, 2011

Just don’t say that—for I would sketch
the chalice of time, not the compromise—

for trees do fly, old father.
It’s true. The sap that
can climb the cellular ladder—
with leaves and birds, the old artifacts,
the spiders and flies, bugs and caterpillars
that can fuel arcs of light and arcs of flight—
would end with old disgrace
without your steady hand on my shoulder.

When you planted this tree
almost forty-five years ago, you were
younger than I am now. I get a chair out of
the garage and sit in the sun. I have
a sketch pad and a fresh box of crayons—
Crayolas. It is as if you planted this
selfless and leafless tree
for me to draw today. Something to think
about before we sell your house, I guess—
a breath of continuity. Hence the crayons.
Hence the winter tree starved
and waiting. Hence, something to sketch
before the leaves fill in among
the branches, for…

For it is spring,
and this tree, it can lie.
Daddy. Okay?

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3 Responses to “Trees Do Fly, Old father…”

  1. John Stevens Says:

    Well, when I read your poems I can hear the brain ticking away below the surface, and I like that!
    I also like the idea of sketching a compromise … hmm. Must try that some time.

  2. extrasimile Says:

    Thanks John. You raise a couple of points which are worth talking about…
    But first, you mentioned the other day that you were honored to be one of the ‘two Johns’… On the contrary, I am the one honored. I see by the site stats that there are a number of people who read this stuff of mine, but really, you are the only one who has been willing to engage with what is, at times, rather obscure material. There is no question in my mind that I’m writing this for myself; I could easily write a poem and put it in a box and be satisfied, but that said, seeing your thoughts reflected in someone else’s thoughts is something I value. Poetry is about communication. So…thank you.
    Okay, so how do you sketch the compromise of time?
    The poem is to some extent a frame for the italicized ‘for I would sketch the chalice of time, not the compromise.’ In a Christian context, ‘chalice’ is a loaded word and a loaded object (holding the blood of God’s incarnation, the Holy Grail, all that). It is conceivably a focal point for time and outside of time. My friend Mr. Yeats is lurking here. I haven’t found the grail, but I can borrow it. I am not especially religious, but the language…
    There are a number of things difficult to sketch here: trees flying, trees lying. (There is such a tree, and I did sketch it. But no flying, and I could not see the sap rising—just a leafless tree in early spring.)
    So…How can one sketch a compromise? I put to you, how can one not?
    And how can that not be a lie?
    ‘Daddy. Okay?’…another lie? The chalice? Or is it okay to lie? Is the problem with the sketching? Does the poem succeed where the sketch does not?
    Anyway my father did plant it some 45 years ago. It survives him. He probably knew it would.

  3. John Stevens Says:

    I’ve read this several times now, with relish.
    There’s a personal resonance because my own father died recently, but looking at the poem for itself I’m aware of the slow ruminative mood, the thoughts that wander back and forth between tree and father and son (or daughter), between then and now – and future too “for it is spring”.
    I don’t understand the chalice and the compromise (and can one sketch a compromise?), but I can live with that – and I greatly enjoyed the “sap that can climb the cellular ladder” etc and the details about sketching.
    I’ve been wondering how far to take the tree as a symbol of, eg, life or time (“Time does fly father”). It’s plausible, but neither necessary nor obvious and you’ve avoided thrusting any symbol at us by the fact that the tree is an actual tree, is an external link with the poet’s father, an object to be drawn and a starting point for reminiscence and reflection.
    Very satisfying.


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