of a tree, dreaming of a tree
and its sound like a hush,
and it seemed he could open
his mouth when he woke and make the others
know something they didn’t already know,
his tree. But he woke and he couldn’t.
He kept thinking of a tree. He made a tree
of his arms and called to the others,
but all he could say, all they could say,
was tree, not that one, no, not here,
tree. They were hungry, shrugged and went on.
Later a leopard dragged him some distance
and left him on the remains of his back,
his plucked face tilted up, and a seed
fell on the stub of his tongue
in his open mouth. Took root,
sent a finger between his teeth
that parted his jaws with its gradual thickness
and lifted its arms full of leaves that fed
on what was in his braincase
and mixed with the sky, and made
a sound in the wind that wasalmost what he wanted.
The limitations of language in communication is a theme that occurs in poetry not infrequently. Perhaps this is a little ironic given that poetry relies on language. But poets demand a lot from words, and it is no surprise that they get frustrated from time to time. To me, there is no poem that explores this theme more memorably than Sarah Lindsay’s Olduvai Gorge Thorn Tree.
There are many, many poems in both books that I love. Even the titles are wondrous – Slow Butterflies in the Luminous Field, Elegy for the Quagga, Valhalla Burn Unit on the Moon Callisto are just a few. In these poems, the overriding sense that I receive is the sense of wonder, as expressed in Cheese Penguin (a poem about a penguin hatched from a cheese tin) : 'the world is large/ and without a fuss has absorbed stranger things than this.'
But in the end, when Sarah gave me permission to use one of her poems here, I couldn’t go past Olduvai Gorge Thorn Tree. Not necessarily because I thought it the best of her poems, but because it was the first I encountered, and therefore had the most impact on me.
Olduvai Gorge is in Tanzania and is famous for the discovery there of early hominids and their tools.
Sarah Lindsay is an American poet from Greensboro, North Carolina. Of her collections of poetry, Primate Behavior (Grove Press 1997) was a National Book Award finalist, and Twigs and Knucklebones (Copper Canyon Press 2008) was named a "Favorite Book of 2008" by the editors of Poetry magazine. Lindsay has also been awarded the J. Howard and Barbara M.J. Wood Prize. More of her poetry can be read here.
This week's Tuesday Poem editor is Catherine Fitchett who lives in Christchurch NZ. She wrote poems in high school but studied chemistry at university which led to several careers as a forensic scientist/toxicologist, and work in accounting. She returned to writing in 1999 and is the member of a poetry group, The Poetry Chooks, which has published The Chook Book, and Flap, The Chook Book 2. Vist her blog Still Standing on her Head, and for more Tuesday Poems enter the world of the sidebar where 30 poets from the UK, the US, Australia and NZ post poems.
CURATOR NOTE: Catherine's city of Christchurch was devastated by a force 6.3 earthquake nearly 13 hours after this poem was posted. We send our prayers and wishes for their safety to Catherine and her family, and to the other Tuesday Poets who live there or who have family there: Helen Lowe, Andrew Bell, Joanna Preston, Kathleen Jones, Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, Tim Jones - there will be others; and to the whole of that shaken suffering city. Kia kaha: strength.
PS. We've heard Helen, Joanna, Jeffrey and families are well, Kathleen's daughter and family are ok but living in a tent, Tim Jones' father and step-mother are also safe, but nothing yet on Catherine F or Andrew Bell. Any news please post a comment here.
ALL TUESDAY POETS AND FAMILIES IN CHRISTCHURCH ARE SAFE AND WELL. Our hearts go out to those who have suffered loss or injury in the earthquake.