Tree by Celia Gilbert

The seed, the shoot, the being halfway between
the world of earth it came from, the world of sky
it learns to know, this creature of dark and light
that drinks and weeps and counts the years,
ring upon ring recording wet and dry
until it falls, or is felled, refashioned,
or returned to forest floor,

This wood, which has a life of its own
expands, contracts, breathes,
and carpenters give it a thwack
as horse breeders do or lovers
the ass of those they love a whack
to set in motion on the air
vibrations such as glass can give
to say that what flesh is there does live
and feel: companion, muse, creations,
that we make of the solid . . .

Wood that has, after all, a heart
that first, like any fool’s, is green,
then left to ripen and to dry
can make a ship, a temple roof, a violin;
if given time enough, whittled
to a leg a man could stand on
if his own were gone, or be a puppet
like a man in all but soul and blood
and like Pinocchio, bad wood of pine,
can only act to hurt and run and hide.

The halfway houses of dryads
and women seeking refuge
from a world of rape like Daphne.
Recall Joan who died fettered to the stake,
and witches numberless who, one with forests,
the fires made a thing of ash.
Cradle and coffin the answer
to the riddle: what thing will be
its beginning and ending, both?

Celia Gilbert is a poet, printmaker, and a painter. She has published four books of Poetry. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly and she has been frequently anthologized.

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