Praise to the cherry on the lawn of the library,
the heave and contorted thrust of it, a master
on its own root, negating the word weeping
(miles to the nearest tears),
requiring instead down-fountaining,
or descending from a ferocious intention.
Whatever twists the trunk
subsumed into pink explosiveness, and then, all summer
the green-black canopy.
Prefer it unbent?
I have no use for you then,
says the torque and fervor of the tree.
I happen to have an ongoing love affair with a cherry tree that we planted some thirty-five years ago in our back yard. Oh, I know that as cherry trees go, it’s likely nothing spectacular; in fact, it’s not even a weeping cherry like the one in the poem.
However, Doty has captured the “torque and fervor” of my tree, now long past its normal lifespan and living on…what? It’s far too old to put forth much in the way of fruit, although it tries valiantly each spring. It’s had many errant branches lopped off over the years and the amputations covered with tar, and it certainly hasn’t received anything special by way of care.
Furthermore, for the past few years there has been a long rent in its side, where the bark has peeled away and left the soft underskin open to bugs and spores and the elements.
But still it lives, and I celebrate its life as I admire its “ferocious intention.”
Each year, still, it blossoms like popcorn in the spring, the heavenly scent of its flowers wafting across the deck. In the summer, it provides cooling shade over the deck, now that it has become tall and wide and venerable. And I sit outside in the fall evenings and watch it shed its leaves, preparing to go inward for the inevitable winter to come…and I wonder, will it still be with us when the snows finally melt and the days grow warmer again?
This old tree has stood over our back deck and watched the slow passing of time as children grew, became teenagers, left home, came back to visit with friends and lovers, married, had children of their own; stood sentry as we brought the silent pains and joys of the seasons of our life to our deck for the solace and celebration of nature; and survived – unbowed – wicked ice storms that felled taller, stronger trees, one of them in our own back yard.
Silly woman, I tell myself, how can you possibly love a tree!
Yet, there is a bond, undeniable, that draws me to run my hand along its rough and tortuous bark as I walk by; a yearning toward it that fills me as I sit on my deck and admire the play of light and shadow through its branches. I could almost believe that it knows, that it receives these inchoate feelings with calm grace and returns them, as it can, by staying with me year after year.
The day must come, of course: my beautiful old cherry tree will reach the end of its long span. Chainsaws and other brute tools will remove the dead remains, leaving behind a bare and desolate space to match the hollow place in my heart where once upon a time, a valiant tree, full of torque and fervor, took root.
Mark Doty is a poet and writer whose works have won numerous accolades and awards, most recently the National Book Award for Poetry in 2008. This poem is taken from his forthcoming Collection, Deep Lane, to be published by W. W. Norton, and appears in the Winter 2013 edition of Tricycle, The Buddhist Review on the Parting Words page inside the back cover.