Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Saturday, August 09, 2014

The Tree Finder

Here's a poem from The Foliate Head for tree-and-word lovers. It originally appeared at the Dave Bonta and Beth Adams e-zine, qarrtsilunias part of "Two Poems from the Plant Kingdom." A recording and lots of interesting comments on the poems are here. (As it's not as freely available in the states as a US-published collection, I'll just add that the book is available by ordering directly from Stanza Press (UK) and the usual online sites, as well as by special order via indies.)


Do you ramble the ground—are you a tree and yet a forest,
     does your great bulk blossom in one night
     like an elephant singing a love-song to the moon,
     do you transform to a reservoir for water and stars,
     do you grow hollow for whistling,
     do you become an ossuary,
     do you hold African mummies in your heart,
     are you baobab?
Were you sacred to healers and priests who haunted oak groves,
     golden shoulder pins on their woven garments,
     your parasite branches in their hands
     —the raspberry girl slaughtered, seeds between her teeth—
     were you sharpened to a Norseman’s spearpoint,
     did your mischief kill a god, fairest of the Aesir,
     do you draw warmth of kisses to an orb of leaves,
     are you mistletoe?
Are the rosy pastors and the bulbuls feasting on your seeds,
     are you red and hairy like Esau,
     are your flowers good in bowls of curried pottage,
     are you a tree of red silk cotton,
     bombax malabarica?
Were you a thousand scented pillars
     around the forecourt of an emperor,
     are you malleable in the whittler’s palm,
     are you swooning-pale and infant-smooth,
     are you a parasite tethered to roots of others,
     are you sandalwood?
Are you loose-tethered, a yielder of leaves to wind,
     are you a sender-out of roots, are you clone,
     is a forest of your kind a single sentience,
     and in fall are you quivering yellow,
     boreal, afflicted with melancholy,
     a breather of mists and cold,
     are you quaking aspen?
Do your flowers steam with fragrance as the heat increases,
     do the chrysomelids rut within your clutch of petals,
     do your blossoms shatter as the beetles copulate,
     are you Amazonian—are you annona sericea?
Are you a kingdom, are you castles in the air,
     are you a garden of Babylon in mist,
     are your branches colonies of dreaming epiphytes,
     are the flicking tails of lizards lost inside your cities,
     are you flying above the prayers of the Maori,
     are you kauri, the tree that must forgive?
Were you as dense and black as mythic thrones of Hades,
     were you strong, were you midnight ripped in lengths,
     were you foretelling gleams—Victoria’s jet beads—
     were you heavier than the fat man’s coffin,
     were you Pharoah’s favorite chair,
     are you ebony?
Are you dawn redwood or frangipani,
     are you whistle thorn or cannonball,
     are you linden, myrtle, jacaranda,
     are you sourwood or silverbell,
     are you a branch of good and evil,
     are you the lemurs’ Ravenala,
     are you Yggdrasil, axis of nine worlds,
     are you a cross whose branches reach forever,
     are you water-tapping, cloud-catching, sun-devouring,
     are you leaf, are you branch, are you root, are you tree?


  1. This ought to be its own picture book.

    1. Thanks, Robinka--I suppose it is, in a way.


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.