Thursday, May 24, 2018

"The Dead Tree" by Howard Stein

The Dead Tree     

. . . stands sentinel
"Carcass" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
in most yards,
in most fields,
monument to death
in the din of life.
Surrounded by change,
the dead tree is changeless –
save for a telltale
bolt of lightning
that severs an arm
or splits the trunk
down the middle.
Generations pass;
the dead tree stays.
It does not speak,
but it passes judgment
on the living
who dare not
cut it down.

--Howard Stein

Poet's Notes:  I have lived for forty years in Oklahoma City and have spent much time teaching in rural Oklahoma. A commonplace feature of yards and fields is a dead tree--one that has stood for decades long after it has ceased producing leaves. I have spoken with many families about these trees and became fascinated with the stories about them. Clearly, for many people, the dead tree is a symbol and not simply the result of not bothering to cut it down. I do not know how widespread this practice is beyond Oklahoma. The spectral dead trees and their stories have haunted me and inspired this poem. 

Editor’s Note:  What an interesting back-story to this Balcomesque poem.  In my experience, dead trees do change from the activity of woodpeckers, weather, fungi, and rot, eventually being reduced to humus.  The idea of a changeless dead tree, an ominous sentinel, being counter to my personal experience, makes this poem fascinating and thought-provoking.

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