Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Two Trees

"Two Trees," the first poem in Don Paterson's Rain, begins with a stanza describing how one Don Miguel grafts an orange tree and a lemon tree together. Then, in a second stanza, "the man who bought the house" splits the two grafted trees apart. A series of negatives follows, climaxing with how the two separated trees did not "strain ... to face / the other's empty, intricate embrace." The poem the explains these negations in the couplet that concludes the second stanza and, with it, the poem itself:

They were trees, and trees don't weep or ache or shout.
And trees are all this poem is about.

If that's the case, then the attraction of this poem lies not in how it extends a potential metaphor for the reader to play around with, but rather in how it teases the reader by apparently offering an extended metaphor before taking it back. This is not the expansion of the usual extended metaphor, which seems to offer such a tremendous range of interpretations, all of them plausible—with the pleasure lying in the poem's surplus of possibilities. Instead, this poem's effect is a matter of diminuition, a playful retreat from the extravagance and excess of extended metaphor (while still partaking of the pleasures of that excess before retreating from them).


One morning, Don Miguel got out of bed
with one idea rooted in his head:
to graft his orange to his lemon tree.
It took him the whole day to work them free,
lay open their sides, and lash them tight.
For twelve months, from the shame or from the fright
they put forth nothing; but one day there appeared
two lights in the dark leaves. Over the years
the limbs would get themselves so tangled up
each bough looked like it gave a double crop,
and not one kid in the village didn't know
the magic tree in Miguel's patio.

The man who bought the house had had no dream
so who can say what dark malicious whim
led him to take his axe and split the bole
along its fused seam, then dig two holes.
And no, they did not die from solitude;
nor did their branches bear a sterile fruit;
nor did their unhealed flanks weep every spring
for those four yards that lost them everything,
as each strained on its shackled roots to face
the other's empty, intricate embrace.
They were trees, and trees don't weep or ache or shout.
And trees are all this poem is about.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have heard it say that trees do not feel, do not scream in pain when do we know? This poem beautifully articulates the mystery of union, separation and loss. If it affords the trees human emotions or whether the poet's eye sees something the ordinary person is oblivious to, the effect is the same...A very moving poem, simply written but fired like an arrow into the heart of this reader.