the madrigal, volume ii
by catherine gander
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.
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
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.
Real life happens hidden.
Tree to tree roots clutch beneath the clay
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
The word forest derives from the Latin foris,
“outside” / “out of doors”
its roots entwined with “foreign”
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—
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?
Outside, the day sinks back into the earth.
The sun bleeds cadmium fire between the poplars
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?
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?
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.