"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison

The Oldest Tree in the World Has Something To Say

The Oldest Tree in the World Has Something To Say

Ha! You thought it was the redwoods who were the oldest
Yes they are the tallest but height isn’t everything for trees
By comparison I am a gnarled dwarf who thrives at altitude
And I am known by my round cones that fall like soft grenades

My needles offer you little shade and even less reason to hug 
You call me Methuselah and you hide my location for protection
As if I were the Buddha of trees who would be visited by hordes
Who want to know the secrets of long life as if I would tell you

I am a hideaway celebrity and I know that you would seek me out
And perhaps invent a new festival supposedly in my honor
But you would wind up trampling the ground around my roots
And so kill that which you wanted so much to celebrate

I have been learning your language for a few millennia now
For I was here when you were first learning to scribble words
When you could hardly mutter anything worth writing down
And you were so busy inventing weapons made of bronze

I’ve heard of these things from the old olive trees who saw it all
As you came to value their oil and their fruit you could press
And I grant that you did discover that words could be music
And that music could travel like seeds in the wind all the way here

So I’ve listened to you from high in my California mountain home
But my cohorts warned me of the sounds of the axe and the saw
We trees can communicate with each other to warn and help
For each of us who dies takes with them a piece of the world

To know me you’d have to learn the secret language of rings
For if you saw my rings in all their variations of width and color
You’d know how the earth has changed in five thousand years
And how things have sped up and how I now want to scream

Following a career as a journalist and author of nonfiction books, Carol Flake Chapman returned to poetry, her first love, after the sudden death of her husband on a wild river in Guatemala shattered her world. Poetry, she found, was not only the language of healing but the means of finding words for the seemingly unspeakable, for the ways our lives -- and our world -- can be disrupted then put back together.

Cover photo by Constantin Popp on Unsplash