Image by Steve Halama

ROOTS

the madrigal, volume ii

Sottovoce

by catherine gander

1.

The evening air is hazed

with pollen dust & it seems

as if each particle carries

the voice of a bird.

The prism sky splits

& scatters their chattering

over our heads.

 

2.

I read to you in the hope that you will sleep

words that are nurturing, educational—

Did you know a forest

is a deep and ancient form

of communication?

The word communication travels backward to

commons            common ground

shared systems of succour & survival.

 

You burrow your little body into my lap

insist on turning the pages yourself.

 

3.

Real life happens hidden.

Tree to tree roots clutch beneath the clay

leaching meaning

translating history.

 

4.

Already you have three languages, one of which I fail to grasp—

A stream that burbles under rocks &

slips into a sea

    primordial amniotic dark.

You’re switching between stories

That very night in Max’s room a forest grew

 

5.

The word forest derives from the Latin foris,

which means

   “outside” / “out of doors”

its roots entwined with “foreign”

via sovereignty.

That’s you my darling                 and your mother               and your father too.

 

We’ve pulled our roots from the ground so many times

the room in which I lay you down is made of

bark & leaf litter         sap beetles          moss & loam

the ceiling a canopy of branches, stars—

 

6.

Tree children are never alone in an old-growth forest.

Here all the trees and animals can live as they wish.

 

The world is kind to those who love it

despite the lateness of the hour and our

empire of buzzsaws

orphaned language       burning torches         severed limbs—

Put your ear to the earth, tesoro,

Can you hear the trees talking?

 

7.

Outside, the day sinks back into the earth.

The sun bleeds cadmium fire between the poplars

silhouetting starlings

beading telegraph wires.

 

We close our book about the boy who

gave up being king of where the wild things are

and sailed a private boat back

to the fortress of his room.

 

If your home was ablaze

what would you save?

 

8.

I whisper-sing the words to you—

The trees of your mother’s land

whitebeam, scots pine, silver birch, aspen

your father’s soil

quercia, olive, cipresso, castagna

your own, ours,

blackthorn, sessile oak, bog myrtle, willow—

A lesson and a lullaby.

 

Note: this poem quotes (in italics) from two children’s books: Can you hear the trees talking? by Peter Wohlleben and Where the wild things are by Maurice Sendak.

Catherine Gander is a poet, critic, scholar, and artist. She was born in Middlesex, England, has lived in many countries and now resides in Ireland, where she teaches at Maynooth University and runs a number of poetry initiatives, including the Maynooth Poetry and Poetics series (with Karl O’Hanlon), and the mentorship programme Diversifying Irish Poetry (DIP). Her words and art can be found in Ink, Sweat & Tears, Juniper, One Hand Clapping, Poetry Ireland Review, The Wolf, the Irish Times, and other publications.