January 19, 2011

Poem and Prayer #6: Michele Wolf

Editor's Note: One final and glorious installment from poet and Virtual Abbey participant, Martin Dickinson (@dickinsonpoet). We've been blessed to have him connect poem and prayer so beautifully.

"Let the field be joyful, and all that [is] therein:
then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice"
Psalm 96:12

Powerful poetry, like prayer, compresses sensuous detail, strong emotion and great insight into one small package. It transports readers to a different space and time. That’s exactly what the Psalms do — probably the best poems and prayers ever inscribed.

Remember what I said about the similarity between poem and prayer? There’s a voice within each of us. Both poem and prayer are about listening to that voice — listening and shaping.

For this last installment of Poem and Prayer, I’ve chosen a wonderful example from a poet who uses sensuous detail and emotion to transport us to another world from where we can look back and reflect upon our own.

Michele Wolf’s “Trees” is from her award-winning collection, Conversations During Sleep. Her poems appear in the best journals: Poetry, The Hudson Review, Boulevard, North American Review and more. Her new book, Immersion, will come out in February.
When we read “Trees” our hands get into the dirt with the narrator. In commemoration of her father and sister, we become stones, we breathe in the oxygen exhaled by seedlings that have grown to become mighty cypresses. We are transported to a world very much like the landscape of the Psalms. Subtly, together with the poet, her father and her sister, we become the “us” of the final line of the poem. As we do so, we catch ourselves grieving and dancing at the same time.


The spade hits a stone. And the stone, asleep
In this spot for centuries, will not be moved.

So I carry the two baby shoots, cupping

Each by its bundle of roots, a few feet away,

Then dig in a softer place, where the dirt

And smaller stones give easily. Gathering

The graveled soil with my hands, tamping it down,

I set these trees into the earth, the home

Where I put you, father, and put you,

Sister. I plant two foot-high cypresses

In your name, gardening a barren

Hill in the family plot, the land of Abraham.

They join acres of forests planted tree by tree,
Until 200 million were planted, and a people

Who reclaimed a desert, their hands in the soil.

How much wandering, and how many stones

In the path, before we can stand on the land

We were promised, before we succumb to the land

As stones ourselves. Yet stands of our trees,

Limbs shifting in the breeze, keep on breathing.

I plant trees among stones, and after I leave,

Each raises its dusty face to feed on the sunlight,

To exhale what’s unseen, the element that gives

Us the chance to wake and dance, and grieve.

© Michele Wolf, with permission of the author

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