Monday, March 25, 2013

questions at the end of March

You cannot tell
from the wind chimes
or from the truck's
barreled rhythm
if it is spring or winter,

but the click of the woodstove
is slowing, and we
are almost out of wood.

The question
remains, whether we buy
another load
or maybe chop and stack
one more dead tree
from the pond’s shoulder

with no thought
in its body of spring

no map of which streams
to open, and when,
no worry of frost
or drought
or whose song is being sung,

neither looking up
nor down. It is a fact
that you cannot tell
from the dead tree
if it is spring or winter

until you burn it
because you need it alive
and clicking one last time


  1. 'until you burn it' - and yes, that too is aliveness. I was just thinking today, when carrying home a branch of dead wood which I would saw up and burn on the fire - this too has life doesn't it, just as everything has, it too has its own feelings and perceptions....
    so, a delightful synchronicity with your poem, which is beautiful, thank you

    1. Morelle, I love knowing we shared this synchronicity! Thank you.

  2. Very lovely, Ruth. I really like the role that listening plays in the first eight lines — listening, not looking, to determine if it's winter or spring. I also love this imagery of needing the dead tree to be alive, to click one last time. Whether intended or not, there appears to be a suggestion of Easter, a suggestion of death and resurrection, in the last lines: "It is a fact that you cannot tell from the dead tree if it is spring or winter until you burn it because you need it alive and clicking one last time."

    1. Thanks so much, George. This has been such a long winter, and I am even listening for signs of spring. It's cool that you found the Easter connection, something I didn't intend, unless it was in my subconscious. I never once thought of that tree of death, and the life celebrated on Easter.

  3. oh, we listen, ruth, especially those of us pushed so far into winter. it will be late april, i think, before we see true spring here, but what does that mean? yesterday running up a logging road, my throat at first burning with the cold, i came across a caterpillar on my return home. a caterpillar! snow banked on each side of the road! i said aloud, this is un-fucking-believable, and yet i held it and walked it to a tree forced to believe it but dumb with the wisdom of nature. i see this undecipherable truth growing through your poem.

    your poem brings me to this poem by galway kinnell, another night in the ruins, especially stanza's 3, 6 and 7:

    In the evening
    haze darkening on the hills,
    purple of the eternal,
    a last bird crosses over,
    ‘flop flop,’ adoring
    only the instant.

    Nine years ago,
    in a plane that rumbled all night
    above the Atlantic,
    I could see, lit up
    by lightning bolts jumping out of it,
    a thunderhead formed like the face
    of my brother, looking down
    on blue,
    lightning-flashed moments of the Atlantic.

    He used to tell me,
    “What good is the day?
    On some hill of despair
    the bonfire
    you kindle can light the great sky—
    though it’s true, of course, to make it burn
    you have to throw yourself in ...”

    Wind tears itself hollow
    in the eaves of these ruins, ghost-flute
    of snowdrifts
    that build out there in the dark:
    upside-down ravines
    into which night sweeps
    our cast wings, our ink-spattered feathers.

    I listen.
    I hear nothing. Only
    the cow, the cow of such
    hollowness, mooing
    down the bones.

    Is that a
    rooster? He
    thrashes in the snow
    for a grain. Finds
    it. Rips
    it into
    flames. Flaps. Crows.
    bursting out of his brow.

    How many nights must it take
    one such as me to learn
    that we aren’t, after all, made
    from that bird that flies out of its ashes,
    that for us
    as we go up in flames, our one work
    to open ourselves, to be
    the flames?

    take one more dead tree from the pond's shoulder, i think:) and keep listening. you are life's lover when you listen like this. it's beautiful to witness.)))


    1. Erin, I read with astonishment about your caterpillar at James's beautiful poem account. I don't know how it is possible in that deep place of winter! I love you for trembling over him.

      Kinnell's poem is tremendous. As I began to read I felt that it was bringing forward the last poem I posted here out of so much despair — the perennial truth as much with us as sunrise and the rooster's crow. How interesting that he too brings listening and flames together, and that you had it to bring together with mine.

      There are many [beautiful] ways to go with this poem of his, this life. To adore only the instant is to open ourselves, to be / the flames. It reminds me of the Buddhist monks who have self immolated, something I have tried to understand. Maybe there is something here to connect, when the despair is the very cause for the burning instant. But I will choose an interior flame (which is reflected in today's small post, though I had not made the connection until this instant (that I am adoring)).

      Much love and gratitude. xoxo

  4. You have written so beautifully, Ruth. Thank you . A tree is so special in every way. We are all one.

    1. Oh thank you, Gwen. How good to connect with you through a tree. And instantly all the "trees" (doors, window frames, furniture, etc.) that you and John have reused and recycled come to mind. Talk about new life!

  5. As April begins, with March questions still hanging, this seems to be a winter that will not give up its ghost! I wonder if anyone will have enough wood left? :) (Beautifully written, sister.)

    1. Thank you, Boots. And today, more than a week after your comment, winter still holds on!

  6. Your poem reminds me of the pleasure to be had chopping wood - I used to do all kinds of work in woodland making poles, clothes props, besoms, charcoal. As they say, if you chop it yourself before you burn it it warms you twice.


All responses are welcome.