Stump Speech

This is the bark, which is always dead.
This is the phloem, which only lives
To carry sunlight down from the leaves,
Then dies into bark, which is always dead.
This is the cambium. Every year
It thickens another ring to wear
And swells the phloem, which only lives
To carry sunlight down from the leaves,
Then dies into bark, which is always dead.
This is the xylem. It lifts the rain
Two hundred feet from root to vein
Out of a cambium well. Each year
It thickens another ring to wear
And swells the phloem, which only lives
To carry sunlight down from the leaves‚
Then dies into bark, which is always dead. This is the heart wood, once locked in
As hard as iron by pitch and resin
Inside the xylem that lifted rain
Two hundred feet from root to vein‚
Now soft as cambium out to where
It thickened a final ring to wear‚
Then shrank like the phloem that swelled with life
Called down like sunlight from each leaf
Behind the bark, which is always dead.
And this is the stump I stand beside,
Once tall, now short as the day it died
And gray as driftwood, its heartwood eaten
By years of weather, its xylem rotten
And only able to hold the rain
One cold inch (roots withered and gone)
In a shallow basin, a cracked urn
Whose cambium and phloem now learn
To carry nothing down to the dark
Inside the broken shell of the bark
But a dream of a tree forever dead.
And this is the speech that grew instead.
—David Wagoner