Poetry Porch: Poetry


By the Tree of Knowledge

by Julia Budenz 

Diary of Flora Baum: December 1

Diary of Flora Baum: December 8

Diary of Flora Baum: Sunday, 7 p.m., December

Diary of Flora Baum: Wednesday, December

Diary of Flora Baum: December 20

        From Part One of the seven parts of Book Five, “By the Tree of Knowledge,” of the poem in five books, “The Gardens of Flora Baum.” 



December 1

The American elm is the tree of December
Before the snow. It gives to winter,
Before the winter, a brilliant crispness,
Lucid exuberance, gives to winter
A vision of vigor, of elegance, of height
Fine, grand, rich, spare. It is a pulpit
From which, on which, I am tempted to preach.
I will not preach. I will drink the wine
Of the wineglass pulpit, of the wineglass, of the chalice
Of delight.

                     I am inebriated.
There are fireworks here. I am dizzy with wine
And fire. I float, not falling, higher. 




December 8

The purity and power of the elm,
The gentle strength and splendor of the stem,
The aspiring and condescending of the branches,
Reach, preach, a spotlessness that could suggest
A thought, a concept, a conception
Wintry, pristine, once primitive,
Now presiding towards the end.

The elm is not the end, nor is December.
The elm alleges . . . 

                                   Yes, I heard the words.
And can my version fail to name
As Adam named in paradise?




Sunday, 7 p.m., December 1

An assonance of abstraction, 
A folly of embodiment,
Dance, prance, walk, stalk, whirl, twirl
Around me as,
Drunk at the trunk that mediates between hard ground and
       impenetrable sky,
While the little week alliterates unwinding wispily,
I await the eighth day.

1 Day of the month missing.




Wednesday, December 1

Had I forgotten, or had I remembered?
I checked the elm. Could I forget
The strings attached? They dangle.
Are they entangled almost, or entangling?

Can we, shall we, say what we see?
Won’t we, will we, tell how we feel?
The sun behind those strings,
Back of those hanging strands,
Dazzled enough to draw gloved hands
Up to cover and reveal.
The sun was hanging back behind the tree.
I recall all these things.

The sky I saw was a heavenly blue.
The elm’s lengthening lines I felt celestial.
The angelic form mattered more, much more,
Than the matter.

1 Day of the month illegible.




December 20

Although two miles away another elm
Rose only in the mutilated beauty
Of the still lovely bole left lingering
By ruthless plague and cruel guillotine,
This elm is not acephalous, yet I,
Sinking, just some puppet of the sun,
Huddle, hungry. Buds that bead each string
Glint as I squint. My head goes up and droops.
My hands move up and drop. Are jewels fruits?

Is this then gravity? or levity?
Or rest? or motion? In one solar year,
Within one revolution, Galileo,
Pallid as winter, pale as winter’s gleam,
Wilted, chilled, in the south, set in the east,
On January eighth, and in the north
Bloomed Isaac Newton, rising in the west,
On Christmas Day, December twenty-fifth.
The year was sixteen hundred forty-two.
But the Italian, by the English date,
Died on December twenty-ninth, a year
Before, in sixteen hundred forty-one,
And, by Italian time, the Englishman
First saw the light on January fourth,
In sixteen forty-three, a later year.
Within one solar round one went, one came:
Between the twenty-ninth and twenty-fifth
Of two Decembers or between the eighth
And fourth of two successive Januaries.
We count the days three hundred sixty-one.

How do we count our years? My years have foundered.
How do we name our days? My days are numbered.

The sun is on the elm, is in the elm.
Such subtle russet bubbles gleam, such small
Baubles along, among, strings glistening.
And I am called, am pulled, am chilled, am cold.

I have not lost my head, but I am numb,
Sinking, sunk, a puppet of the sun.


Copyright © 2001 by Julia Budenz.
        From Part One of the seven parts of Book Five, “By the Tree of Knowledge,” of the poem in five books, “The Gardens of Flora Baum.”