Lent 19: Before the Wind

Kathleen Jamie says of her collection The Tree House: “when asked what I write about, I like to reply that ‘about’ is the wrong word, it suggests the wrong relationship. I prefer to say ‘from’ or ‘toward’, or occasionally ‘through’. I wanted to write poems toward or from the natural world.” Thus in a sense these are nature poems – exactly what I tend not to like. There is enough here, though, to keep me interested. I think it’s because she’s writing ‘through’ nature, not just wittering on about some silly orange blossom on some piffling tree somewhere.

The collection opens with a poem about a wishing tree – she’s onto a winner here with me, as my childhood contained a wishing tree just like it (“I stand neither in the wilderness / nor fairyland // but in the fold / of a green hill”) – though I don’t remember its scars (“My limbs lift, scabbed / with greenish coins”). There is a poem about mating frogs (“they lay / inert as a stone, the male / fastened like a package / to her back. […] neither so much as blinked; / their oval, gold-lined eyes / held to some bog-dull / imperative.”) which comes to an abrupt end as they are smushed by a car (“belly / to belly, tongue thrust / utterly into soft brain”). There are ocean mammals, bog men and dialect I can’t decipher. And there’s this:

     Before the Wind

     If I’m to happen upon the hill
     where cherries grow wild
     it better be soon, or the yellow-
     eyed birds will come squabbling,

     claiming the fruit for their own.
     Wild means stones barely
     clothed in flesh, but that’s rich
     coming from me. A mouth

     contains a cherry, a cherry
     a stone, a stone
     the flowering branch
     I must find before the wind

     scatters all trace of its blossom,
     and the fruit comes, and yellow-eyed birds.

See the intro/roundup.

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