Potted Tree

Bought a tree in a pot,
took it back to the flat to occupy a nook
where sunlight guttered from a lack of air.

A tree in a pot is an odd thing to see.
Roots are not meant to resemble a club foot,
a wrist without a hand, an unthinking fist.
Grotesque the feelers with no way to grow
but endless recursion, open, shut —
a dead brain in a body automatically fed.

Branches without birds look out at birds without branches.
Only the cat on the windowsill seems lonely
for whatever all of us once were living for.
__________

Written for the special Halloween edition of the Festival of the Trees (deadline October 26 – submit here).

For lots of more cheerful tree-related links, visit the latest edition of the festival at trees, if you please.

9 Comments


  1. Dynamite. Absolutely dynamite. (I thought you had a bit more in the out-of-place-plants line after “Houseplants in the garden” here a week or so ago. Now it’s outside in instead of inside out.)

    I love the anapestic meter that comes to the surface so dramatically on occasion, like a strong whale. I don’t think I’ve noticed so much meter in your recent stuff. (And I love to say anapestic. I think of Italian food.) I mean it leads so nicely into “but endless recursion,” which to me is the point of the meter.

    Each of your stanzas ends with one of those dynamite Bontan closes — just the right image and feeling, somehow combined in such a small number of words.

    The verse is so playful. The second stanza’s first line seems right out of A.A. Milne’s verse. It makes me ready for the cat in the windowsill — I’m ready for the magic — but the bottom drops out in the last line. “Lonely” is such a powerful word here; nice echo after “only.”

    This is one of my favorites.

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  2. Oh wow – I have no words for what this poem did to me. It’s absolutely lovely, and desolate and haunting at the same time. Just wow.

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  3. I like the poem, and I’m impressed that you have a visitor who dares to talk about meter in public. I like that anapestic swing, too–and it’s firmed up by all those initial trochaic feet, so that there’s an interesting collision between the spirit of the meter and the desolation of dead light and cramped growth.

    And I also like that interesting little “mirroring” figure of speech in line 10. It makes me wish that I had not gotten rid of 25 boxes of books, including George Puttenham’s The Arte of English Poesie. But I think it’s called antimetabole.

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  4. Thanks for the comments and generous reactions. I’m flattered that y’all seem to think I know what I’m doing, and perhaps I shouldn’t do anything to dispel that impression, but really, I’m just fumbling in the dark. My word choice in a poem is always strongly shaped by sound and rhythm, and sometimes — as here — I focus on the patterns of sound on the page, especially when it helps me drive home a didactic point. I’m not opposed to discussions of meter and form, though, and I too enjoy words like “anapestic” and “antimetabole,” despite — or perhaps because of — not having the foggiest idea what they mean.

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  5. Oh thank God! Dave doesn’t know what the antipasto uh pesto thingy means either! (or is at least saying so, in order that people like me can still feel free to comment.) Hmm “little trochaic feet’. Somehow smacks of T.S. Elliot. (grin)

    But back to business. I loved this poem. I spent some time trying to free a desperate root bound plant from it’s club footed prison early this spring. Love the imagery. The brain /body in solution being fed by tubes. Root recursion..

    And maybe now we know why so many birds fly into those window panes.

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  6. Thanks Joan – I’m glad the poem resonated with you. The brain-dead imagery comes from my suspicion that a plant without its native fungal symbionts is not quite all there. Couldn’t find an elegant way to say that explicitly, though.

    Carl Sandburg was the “little cat feet” guy, though you’d be forgiven for thinking it was Eliot, who authored the book on which the musical “Cats” was based. (See, I do know something!)

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  7. You know vastly more than I do, and no doubt in a number of languages. I am fluent in pig Latin, only.

    Ah..I wish that was the reason I let Sandburg trickle through my fingers but it was just my usual ‘too lazy to look it up’ mentality. Eliot was actually our hometown boy, but he defected to England, so I am glad it was probably Chicago’s fog that was pussy footing around.

    I thought it fine and elegant enough..the way you put it. I’m thinking you aren’t a great fan of hydroponics though? (grin)

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  8. No, hydroponics is scary… nightmarish, in fact. And symptomatic of Western society’s total disconnect with [insert predictable remainder of rant here].

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