—A Selection from Oak Wise: Poetry Exploring an Ecological Faith
Image © by Christopher Michel, Flickr
Oh, what an abandonment the first winter was,
As life withered without expectation of return.
How spited the first peoples felt
When the warmth of their day was stolen
And the abrasive wind drove them from the merriment
To watch the entire world die
—Every plant wilt and every tree turn bare—
Without explanation or apparent cause.
We had not yet established a trust with you,
Had we, Mother?
We were the newcomers to your plains
And knew not your cycles and moods.
We knew not of the ballet
That you and your partner the sun eternally enact.
We knew not that, for a time each year,
You pull all life inward
—Leaving the surface barren—
In a season called winter.
We did not realize that season,
In its extreme,
Is natural and needed
…A restorative sleep,
Wherein every organism rests
After the season of growth
So to prepare for the next.
From our eyes
All we could see was death;
We did not know that the life we saw vanish
Was merely hibernating within you.
What a renewal of thy love the first spring was.
After the winter left all distraught.
After the desolation and famine,
The budding of the trees
Was such an affirmation of thy care
—An answer to the prayers that had carried on
Throughout the bleak days
Of short daylight and long darkness
…Of fleeting warm and deep cold.
…Of persistent hunger and bare orchards.
We feared that you had died,
Oh needed Mother.
As you closed your eyes to sleep
—As you exhaled
And the trees dropped their leaves—
We feared you dead.
Wailing in hunger
Without the nourishing bosom
Of your land’s bounty,
Frozen without the shelter
Of your warming presence,
We mourned you
And prepared for our own end
But then you came back.
Your lifeless body took a breath
And the buds emerged
From the tips of the withered trees.
Blood coursed through your pale body
And the yellow grass surged with green.
Your still hands stirred
And a warm wind blew in from the south.
Your eyes flickered opened
And the song of the returning sparrows
Heralded your reawakening.
During that first scare—
Before we knew this death was merely sleep,
We felt scorned.
As the warm winds
Of our Arcadia turned hostile
We felt as if we had been abandoned by our mother—
Turned from the house before we were ready
Out into a harsh reality
For which we were unprepared.
The world had come to its end;
The days had grown darker,
Nature had shed its colors
Like a stiffening corpse,
The flow of fruits trickled
And then finally the coldness came.
And as the warming glow of your presence dimmed
Those demons darkness, cold, and hunger,
Which you and your symbiont the sun had kept at bay
Came to call.
Swept off the hillsides
We huddled, bewildered
Around the dim, seemingly forlorn hope
That you would rise up
And life could return to what it once was.
Walking through the gray bare wood
We attended your wake
To see your plaid body set out before us.
You were gone
And we knew not what to do.
Amongst the cemetery of stark trees,
We saw a gathering of survivors
—A grove of yew still in bloom.
Taking them as a sign that you still endured,
We had reason to hope
That your warmth would one day return.
You, in your love,
Had brought forth this family of tree,
Which blooms when all others wither,
To be a symbol of your continued presence and care.
As if, before you laid down to take your rest,
You left behind a note for us—
Assuring us that,
While you may seem lifeless,
You are not
…That while you may seem dead,
You are not
…That while it may seem you abandoned us,
You never will.
During your season of slumber
We are left to fend for ourselves.
Yet you do not simply abandon us;
You give us fire to ward off the demon frost
And the wisdom of preservation,
That we may have a portion of your harvest
To keep us hearty until your return.
When the cold winds start cresting the hills
And creeping along the grounds of our village,
We place in the grate the fat oak Yule log
And kindle the fire to push back the threat.
We stoke the fire that brings warmth and light,
Keeping the hearth with vigilance,
As if it were a candle in the window
Showing our remembrance of you
During the season of your respite.
And on those coldest days
—Months into the season of darkness—
When we begin to fear that spring shall not return,
We go unto that evergreen grove.
As though opening the door
Of the room you sleep in
To insure that you are alright.
We touch the prickly needles
To check that they still cling steadfast to the bough;
Then peel back a single scale of the bark along the trunk
So to see that reassuring glint of pale green beneath
And know that you are still there,
Soon to return to us
And bring with you the return of ease.
Then, as we leave,
We take with us cuttings
From the immortally green
With which we adorn our home
In the time of dark,
So to keep in sight
The promise of your return.
Foreword by Irish Writer and Filmmaker Alan Cooke
Revised & Updated – Second edition featuring a new foreword and previously unpublished poems.
ISBN 978-1-938846-05-2 | 6 x 9 | 230 Pgs | List Price: $14.95
*Winner of the 2013 Nautilus Gold Medal for Poetry
*2012 Pushcart Prize Nomination
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