Snapshot of an Orchard in Port Angeles
(for Mrs Georgia Bond and Stanley Kunitz)
The woman worked all her youth on Lost Mountain
marking trees to be cut,
and gave birth to five children.
Now, old and a widow, she takes care
of her orchard,
When her daughter brought the poet from Provincetown to visit,
the old woman was proud to show him
her oldest tree : pinus aristata- the one never marked
for cutting- that is, the deathless one- she added.
The poet doubted this; ‘I am afraid you are mistaken.
The oldest tree in the world is metasequoia
glyptostroboides- (also known as the Dawn Redwood)
and it has more lives to live. Well, what do you think?
Which one of us is right, madam?’
She answered: ‘A man lives as long as his life, mister,
but a poet lives as long as your tree with a strange name.’
He liked her answer so much that on her birthday
he sent by telegram to a nursery, then by truck
to her doorstep, his own tree, the Dawn Redwood,
and a card : ‘May this tree grow near yours.
Let their shadows annul each other reciprocally
so in your orchard
light will grow free forever’.
I have mentioned Liliana Ursu’s book The Sky Behind the Forest before, it is translated by Tess Gallagher and Adam Sorkin. Bloodaxe 1997.