The other day a friend who is, among other things, the Arts Chaplain/Curator at St Faith’s Anglican church, asked if I had a poem that focused on the struggle of moving out of a dark vulnerable place towards hope. He wanted the poem to be part of the church’s observance of Advent. (To refresh: Advent, for Christians, is a period of introspection that arrests the daily hypnosis, exposes an existential loneliness, and sharpens a hopeful longing for the manifestation of Christ.)
The poem he picked wasn’t written with Advent in mind, nor was it written to reveal any sort of virtue, let alone hope. As most poems, it wasn’t planned, it was simply the occasion of sitting alone in a small park in downtown Edmonton one late summer afternoon, looking at a tree; a tree that happened to be leaning. I wrote a few drafts right there on the park bench. Later, after a dozen more, it gave itself up. These few years later, I see that it is an Advent poem. But conceivably, for those who don’t observe Advent, it is still a hopeful poem.
Tree in a northern park
Today I saw a tree in a northern park
that slanted out as though it thought
to breach the blue horizon.
A mighty lean for a madroña,
but unknown for a white pine
-arc-boutant of imperfection.
It seemed a lonely tree.
A price it paid in failing the upright
company of other trees.
It did not tower or scrape the sky
as is said of the great redwoods.
It did not triumph over forces
that kept it lean-limbed and low.
Prostrate, its keeling crown
an uncertain compass—
weaving keening O’s, and silent Om’s
the semaphore of yearning,
the defying of impasse.
By the will of wind it moaned
a beggars hymn. Bough-bent
toward hell, it did not despair.
I imagined praying roots like great
hands spanning toward the arctic.
And restive roots that felt far
into the flesh of earth,
picking up the tremolo of palmetto.
Forever following a faint calling,
it hungered to lean
farther, still farther,
and touch the Southern Cross.