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THE TREE WARDEN

by L. E. Sissman



audioear picture Hear Peter Davison read this poem (in RealAudio).

(For help, see a note about the audio.)

Also by L. E. Sissman:
Tras Os Montes (1978)
Love-Making; April; Middle Age (1968)
The Museum of Comparative Zoology (1967)


In Atlantic Unbound:

Attending to the Night, by Peter Davison (March 17, 1999)
A new selection of poems by the late L. E. Sissman revives the sound of a distinctive postwar American voice. Sissman's friend and longtime editor looks back at the poet's career.


Go to:
An Audible Anthology
Poetry Pages



I.

A FAREWELL TO ELMS

In late July, now, leaves begin to fall:
A wintry skittering on the summer road.
Beside which grass, still needing to be mowed,
Gives rise to Turk's caps, whose green tapering ball-
Point pens all suddenly write red. Last year,
The oriole swung his nest from the high fan
Vault of our tallest elm. Now a tree man
Tacks quarantine upon its trunk. I hear

An orange note a long way off, and thin
On our hill rain the ochre leaves. The white
Age of a weathered shingle stripes the bark.
Now surgeons sweat in many a paling park
And bone saws stammer blue smoke as they bite
Into the height of summer. Fall, begin.

II.

THE SECOND EQUINOX

Perambulating his green wards, the tree
Warden sees summer's ashes turn to fall:
The topmost reaches first, then more, then all
The twigs take umbrage, publishing a sea

Of yellow leaflets as they go to ground.
Upon their pyres, the maples set red stars,
The seal of sickness unto death that bars
The door of summer. Bare above its mound

Of leaves, each tree makes a memorial
To its quick season and its sudden dead;
With a whole gale of sighs and heaving head,
Each ash attends its annual burial.

The warden, under a boreal blue sky,
Reminds himself that ashes never die.

III.

DECEMBER THIRTY-FIRST

The days drew in this fall with infinite art,
Making minutely earlier the stroke
Of night each evening, muting what awoke
Us later every morning: the red heart

Of sun. December's miniature day
Is borne out on its stretcher to be hung.
Dim, minor, and derivative, among
Great august canvases now locked away.

Opposed to dated day, the modern moon
Comes up to demonstrate its graphic skill:
Laying its white on white on with a will,
Its backward prism makes a monotone.

In the New Year, night after night will wane;
Color will conquer; art will be long again.

IV.

MAY DAY

Help me. I cannot apprehend the green
Haze that lights really upon the young
Aspens in our small swamp, but not for long.
Soon round leaves, as a matter of routine,

Will make their spheric music; and too soon
The stunning green will be a common place.
Sensational today runs in our race
To flee the might of May for willing June.

To reach a bunch of rusty maple keys,
Undoing a world of constants, more or less,
I tread on innocence. The warden sees
In May Day the historical success
Of labor; a safe date for planting trees;
A universal signal of distress.




Copyright © 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. From Night Music: Poems, by L. E. Sissman, edited by Peter Davison. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Co.

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