ODE TO THE BIRCH TREE IN THE GARDEN

 

Anyone can tell you’re a right beauty, an arbor-e-al stottir.

How was it that elegant white trunk with paper bark got to

Rise so sinuously vertical, and that other main limb climb

With it in perfect counterpoint? Each new branch has mimed

Its neighbours’ posture, curving more steeply as your height too

Increased, making an outline so classical that if you asked Plato

To draw the perfect form of a tree he’d have made an image mate to

Yours, the same inscribed on every leaf by its veins. Photosynthesis

Is their gift to you and me as they convert the energies

Of light into the sugars you require as food, and release

Oxygen to the planet. Simultaneously they decrease

The levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by fixing

It as carbohydrate. There’s an equation for this mixing:

CO2 plus H2 0 plus LIGHT gives CH2 0 plus O2

This is one of the ancient bases of life, and and woe to

The civilisation that neglects it. Below ground, invisibly

Your roots make common cause with varieties of sibling

Fungi to map the soil, communicate with other trees and find

the moisture needed by your leaves, that are designed

To suck it upwards by making a vacuum as they vaporise it.

Systems of events connected by a pattern are realised

In every cell and tree and poet but seldom with such beauty

As you show now. An end of summer fullness suits you:

The suave dark greenness over the simple white

Of your trunk gives me, in these bright September days,

A cause for gratitude and evokes my praise.

 

Note: “Stottir” is a Scots word for a person of great attractiveness, usually a young woman.

 

 

 

ODE TO DONALD

You had a natural grace that I lacked when we were teenagers,

Your physical habit not so much muscly as lean, braver

Than mine, quick, sure and rhythmic, as in your dancing

While I was clumpy. Even when you were chancing

Your arm with lassies, they trusted your straightforwardness.

Do you remember the spot by the Calder where the river pressed

Between two mighty rocks 15 feet high, 6 feet apart at the top? That’s

Where you challenged me to jump across. I’d have turned you down flat

Had it been us alone but there was a crowd to shame me,

So I said,”You go first” looking down at the torrent that could maim me,

And you did, leaping out to totter on the far edge, steady

Yourself, and grin back at me. “No thanks,” I said, “I’m not ready

To die today,” accepting defeat, although at other times I

Was drawn to share your daft and dangerous gallantry.

 

Now you walk with difficulty and your short-term memory

Is nil. You recognise me but the recognition is temporary

And must be re-enforced with stories from the past. Yet our joy

In one another is not dimmed and the laughter of boys

Flickers on old faces. I worry that maybe there’s not much left

Of you as you struggle to make words work, you who were as deft

With words as with music. Then you smile at your wife, and I know

Behind the damage of disease your soul is still complete. Like the slow

Movement of Beethoven’s Quartet 135, where the lovely first

Melody develops then degenerates into broken bursts

Of harmony portending closure; but now unmistakably the cello

Lays down the tune in the bass, pristine and true, its mellow

Timbre affirms,”It’s me.”

                                            Old friend, we’re both near

The last river and I know if you go first, you’ll leap over

With as much pizzaz as at the Calder and backwards grin with pride

Encouraging me to jump in the hope that there is another side.