Confession of the Gallows Tree

I am the gallows tree the children playing hangman draw
on a chalk-pale blackboard.
The adorable children clap their hands
& a man dangles from a wayward branch
like an outsized pupa
loaded with the ichneumon’s deadly eggs.

I am the tree where the screech owl learned to squint.
A body weighs so little without a shadow!
But at the first touch of sun it returns
to the world of objects, a frost-struck marigold
too late for the sprinkler’s unction.

I remember the forest: I alone escaped the charcoal-
makers. Not worth the trouble, they said,
& their blackfaced helpers, done with their shifts,
stretched out in my ungainly shade.
Now, whenever the moon is right, a man
with a trowel comes round to steal my soil.
I don’t know how many more uses I can take.

This morning I dreamt of a storm, ah—
a forked tongue of lightning curled around me,
turned my sap to quicksilver. Lord,
if I must remain an instrument of power,
let me be a caduceus: thy staff, thy rod.



  1. endlesslyredonoursnow · April 3, 2007

    Excellent. My favourite so far. The shadow image is wonderful and the finale of the poem is heartrending. Paints strong, strange pictures. Thanks for posting it.


  2. Dave Bonta · April 3, 2007

    Oh really, you liked this one? How interesting! It’s one of my oldest – I think it dates back to around 1987, though the present conclusion is newer.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. endlesslyredonoursnow · April 3, 2007

    It’s just such a compelling concept, and the images are strange and fit the voice well – they are just the sort of things one would imagine such a tree would notice. There’s something archaic about the diction too which suits it, and the end is compelling because of the tree’s compassion, the compassion of a murder weapon: it’s unexpected that something so grisly would yearn to be a symbol of healing. There is a possible mystical significance too which I don’t know if you intended.

  4. gautami tripathy · March 17, 2008

    Old or not, I think trees are forever. So this has that new feel to it.

    numbing nirvana

  5. LaurenceMcbeth · March 17, 2008

    Love it…so different to see a thing of beauty as an instrument of man’s brutality to man..and the tree..the wise tree… is used but not touched by what we make him do…

  6. paisley · March 17, 2008

    this was a very intense crying out on the part of your tree… spread so thin thanked so little… very well written… and thanks for the info on the blog carnival.. i linked my entry…

  7. Crafty Green Poet · March 18, 2008

    you really did bring that tree alive!

  8. Linda Jacobs · March 18, 2008

    This is so well written! Every word choice is precise and perfect!

  9. mariacristina · March 18, 2008

    It’s interesting to see the different incarnations of the tree. It was sad to think of it outliving the rest of the forest. It kind of reminded me of The Seafarer, and how he outlived all his companions. Growing older, even for a tree, can’t be easy. The tree’s final wish is a desire to do some good in the world- an enlightened tree.

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