These yews, that reach just even
With our eyes, greeting us
With tendrils ripe as roots, seem
In league with spring's unsettled ground
Where touch, like trees, works both
Ways, up and down. Like sap, it flows
To roots and buds alike and feeds
Two ends of growth at once, to load
Its twigs with soft, responsive
Nodes, soaking in the rising sun,
And douse the guarded sieves
Below with little touches
Of its shadow's run,
The flow of cold and heat
Passed in shapes and smudges
From our moving seat
Where steel is gripped in rose
To compensate for bark with leaf;
While back and forth, like boughs
In wind, or waves on reefs,
An ascendant forest lifts
Abroad its sodden core
To spark in turn the air
Itself with spore, small
Hands thrown out, their gloves peeled back
To bone, whose tip a seed's
Instinctive branches grasp
Before the distance grows,
Reaching down at last to plant
What touch at first has sown,
As we climb the gap between
The mountain's vast extremes,
Sky's inverted pictures
Where entire trunks are trapped
Inside the second natures
Where our woods are mapped.
February 12th, 1986
Riding up a ski lift, we see the woods almost upside down, being closer to the tops of trees than to their roots. This prompted me to see things upside down, as if a tree had roots for branches, and a canopy for roots. A perverse image, induced by the artificial mechanism of the ski lift, I thought. On inspection, however, I saw that leaves serve the same purpose as roots, feeding the tree with sun and water. Roots similarly imitate branches in their search for balance and sustenance. It is as if one system balances the other, making tips soft and bark hard on purpose.
The same reversal occurs in a tree's reproduction. The dumb act of releasing seeds into wind provides a grand stratagem of reforestation seemingly beyond the means of a tree's limited brain power, yet encoded in every cone. There is a genetic truth, then, that shapes our ends, if loosely.
Lovers are like that, I imagine. The hesitant overtures of courting, say, sitting shoulder to shoulder on a ski lift, lead to hands touching, and so on into a possible loose progression to marriage and birth (nature providently allowing for false starts). As nature has a second nature, which accounts for an intelligence outside the normal definition of nature itself, so we, too, have second natures which lead us upwards, like spore on the wind, to values we ourselves might not have the nerve for, such as love and children, or even a first touch (which makes us kin).
The accidental inversion of perspective, then, brings us to a world that, far from being upside down, is straighter and clearer than normal.
I passed up end rhymes by and large here to rhyme where the voice would naturally pause for breath. When read, the constant inner rhymes add to the rhythm.
The lift chair's shadow chills the forest ground, but even the shadow contains flickers of light that warm, a paradox constant with the central paradox of reversals of perspective.
The peeling glove image is also a paradox, where the apparent wintry death, the nakedness of the seeds, is rather a preparation for releasing life more quickly.
This was originally called “On the Lift.”
February 12th, 1986