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Saturday, November 02, 2013

Swifts from the buttonwood--

Before long I'll be abandoning my family in Cooperstown for a little while, visiting classes taught by Jeremy L. C. Jones at Wofford College, doing a reading, and visiting my mother. It should be pleasant, if I can ever get through that annoying To Do list and leave . . .

In stray moments I'm reading Abandoned Quarry: New and Selected Poems (Mercer University Press, 2010) by John Lane, who teaches at Wofford. Also an essayist, he teaches Southern literature, Environmental Studies, and more.

The poems draw on thirty years of publishing books and chapbooks.

Here's a sample:


Praise the sycamore for its huge girth when left alone,
              so thick that settlers used its hollow heart for a barn.
              For the beauty of the buttonwood lies in the trunk.

Praise for these trunks more thick and sturdy than all other deciduous trees,
              a true forest giant of stream sides, flood plains and river bottoms,
              for dark spaces where swifts congregate and fly out at dawn.

Praise for sycamore bark, flaking off in big green patches on old trunks,
              for the wood, clay-yellow and warty, furrowed, bone-like,
              and yes, for the leaves, bright green and huge, paler below.

Praise for what we've made from them: oxcart wheels, barber poles,
              old stereoscopes, lard pails, hogshead for grain,
              piano and organ cases, crates, boxes, and butcher blocks.

Praise for the Carolina Parakeet, now gone, our only true parrot,
              and for their yearly feasts on sycamore buttons in spring when
              clouds with wings passed through so thick the sun was obscured.

And praise for the cooling depth of the sycamore's shade, for the rich
              deep bottom lands where the field guides say it still "takes happy rest,"
              for the streams running past and the sycamore leaves floating there.


  1. Leaving the nest like the young ones? Oh, you will have fun though I know what you mean by that 'to do' list which never goes away!

    I like the poem. It made me think of our huge cedars and firs, and also got me wondering if I'd ever seen a sycamore. Maybe the related plane tree variety in Europe?

  2. Yes, dreadful bothersome list!

    You should google "sycamore" and see if you have! They are wonderful-looking. I love the peeling bark (reminds me a little of certain crepe myrtles) and the "monkey balls."

    Huh. I didn't realize that the London Plane tree was a European-North American cross: "There are two subgenera, subgenus Castaneophyllum containing the anomalous P. kerrii, and subgenus Platanus, with all the others; recent studies in Mexico[3] have increased the number of accepted species in this subgenus. Within subgenus Platanus, genetic evidence suggests that P. racemosa is more closely related to P. orientalis than it is to the other North American species.[4] There are fossil records of plane trees as early as 115 million years (the Lower Cretaceous). Despite the geographic separation between North America and Old World, species from these continents will cross readily resulting in fertile hybrids such as the London Plane." Wikipedia


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.