Plant a Tree and Reforest the Earth

We are living in a season of grief. We are living in a season of mass bereavements – from Covid19 or other causes – where we are limited in our expressions of mourning. We are also facing grief for injustices done. Sadness is an appropriate response. Anger is an understandable response. In my own sorrow I turned to poetry. This is the book I plucked from the shelf.

Alice Walker brought out this complete collection by The Women’s Press in 1991.

Before I tell you about the poem that I turned to, I want to speak as some one who grew up as a white person in a small town that had one black family and two mixed race families. In 1968 I was eleven and the land of my birth was being shriven with unrest caused by civil rights withheld and a foreign conflict that many did not sanction. Protests that turned ugly were on the 6:30 news most summer evenings. (We religiously watched NBC’s The Huntley Brinkley Report in our household.) That raised my consciousness, as well as the assasinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy. What I had to help educate myself and build empathy was good reading matter.

My elementary school publicised a subscription book club where you could buy cheap paperbacks every month. I spent a lot of my weekly allowance with that Book Club. As a book worm tween I was able to buy and read books like Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery and a biography of Mary MacLeod Bethune. Because I was also hungry for biographies of women (which were thin on the ground in the 1960s), I understood on some unconscious level the desire of having someone who looks like you reflected in the world. In those days we had a new phrase “role models.” I might not have had the same skin colour as Bethune, but golly she was a Mighty Woman! What reading did for me was educate me about lives that were different from mine, but were interesting and powerfully inspiring. It also gave me context for what was happening contemporaneously. Reading forged a connection that transcended social, racial, religious, and gender differences. It also exercised my empathy muscle and prepared me for reading The Diary of Anne Frank. By puberty I was well informed at just how low humans could go in terms of harming fellow human beings.

So, readers, please give your children books that will give them context to help them understand the why of what it happening at this moment. It will help them in so many ways.

Now, to the poem that helped me write the Sunday Weekly poem and also to navigate my sadness with this moment in our history. The poem is Alice Walker’s “Torture” that runs through a litany of “when they torture your…” loved ones with the response “Plant a Tree.” The final verse runs thus:

When they begin to torture

the trees

and cut down the forest

they have made

start another.

Alice Walker “Torture” from Horses Make a Landscape More Beautiful
Let Us Breathe

All the millions cut down
robbing the biozone of CO2...
All the millions burned
in a Holocaust where we learned
nothing.
                  Enough is enough.

Plant a tree for George Floyd.
Then plant another and another.
Plant a tree for the strange fruit
hanging for 400 years
from innocent trees. 
Plant a tree in memory. We too soon 
forget.
                  But, enough is enough.

Plant a tree for the named and the nameless.
Plant a tree for all those who could not breathe.
Plant a tree of all of us who still cannot breathe.
Plant a green lung to ventilate the planet.
Let us breathe.
Let us breathe. 
Plant a tree.


Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.
Tree on Yeats Lake Isle of Innisfree
Tree on Yeats’ Lake Isle of Innisfree in Lough Gill, Co. Sligo, Ireland

Featured image is a Photo by Pedro Kümmel on Unsplash

Good Grief!

I began the day pondering the nature of grief. Being a words person, I started by looking up the etymology of the word grief. It is handed to the English via 12th century Old French apparently. The translation is ‘to burden.’  From the 13th century it  came to be synonymous with ‘to oppress’ and ‘to enrage’ But the original burden implied the burden was from a wrong, an injustice.

That is not necessarily the context that 21st century readers would take for the meaning. We are well primed with the texts on the stages of grief elucidated by Elizabeth  Kuebler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying.  Perhaps we apply it too much to personal mourning. Mourning has a different texture and tenor to grief, although the two can be linked.  A personal loss of a loved one can be a literal burden – to become an orphan, say, or sole carer for a large family.  But more often we speak of grief about the space that the bereaved feel at the sight of the empty chair or place at the table. We miss someone who is irrevocably gone.

However, today’s poetry practice tackles collective grief and explores the most ancient roots of the word. Because certainly what the world is experiencing every shade and stage of grief in its most ancient and modern senses. The poem borrows its structure from Kuebler-Ross the ways we navigate grief in our contemporary world.

 

Good Grief

 

It’s normal for there to be denial,

to tsunami kind of cry,

to not believe you own eyes,

that it cannot be happening.

Not to us. We are good people.

It’s normal to want to flannel.

 

It’s normal to feel angry,

to want to punch at walls a lot,

to hurt yourself when powerless,

because you want to hurt someone else so much.

To kill the messenger maybe, you want to raise an army,

or go postal a bit like Carrie off on her arson spree.

That’s how it feels when all comes to naught.

 

It’s normal to think you can bargain,

to be able to wheedle and haggle it out.

You’d do anything to spare a loved one, right?

Surely we must have left a little bit of clout?

So you go and try to make the best deal this side of heaven.

But doesn’t that sometimes feel like a bit like theft?

I’m telling you. It’s normal to feel sold out at auction.

 

It’s normal to feel kind of depressed,

to feel all the consequent emptiness.

Loss is loss. Gone is gone.

You ache. You yearn. You feel distressed,

you veer between enlightening moments when

you feel like both a con and a pawn.

It’s normal to feel like that when depressed.

 

It’s normal to grieve what is bygone, but

acceptance becomes your new normal.

You may model yourself on Teflon, yet

everything absolutely still sticks. Okay? Probably not.

We could look to the classics for lessons – for instance,

Agamemnon murdering his daughter for fair wind and favour.

Today our new normal is to feel not just cursed, but  dishonoured.

 

Copyright © 2018 Bee Smith

 

Featured image:

Learning to Live Without America

What a week! What edge of the seat reality TV! What plot twists! What amazing appearances at elevators, like an inverted stage deus ex machina! It’s great theatre if it didn’t impact so many millions of lives. And while millions still are dazzled by the Emerald City and Oz, the Great Wizard was laughed at by the world. Then, remembering the manners their mothers taught them, mildly, with the Grand Wizard. Sorry! The Great Oz.

But I will say it has been plenty fodder for poetry practice. I am now into week three of posting a poem a day. And it isn’t even April NaPoWriMo.

Learning to Live Without America

Everyone gets to grow up
although it can be hard to adult at times.
To have to learn a whole new language
(I do mean cultural patois here)
in which one is never completely fluent.

Yet, I am here to say it
as a kind of living Exhibit A.
It is possible.
Doable.
Sometimes even preferable.

It was proved oh so succinctly
this week in the Assembly Hall.
Now its okay to laugh at America
because America really doesn’t want to play ball
with the world. Anyway,

America is in love with walls today.
But here is a nugget of fact,
a singular Eurocentric truth,
the pith in the block of concrete
that built the so-called Peace Line.
The plot was lost with the wall. History only paused.
That is all.
When its natural arc is to march
to the tune of the twist in its tale.

But, as I was just saying about walls…

Once you have built a wall
You are on to a loser.
Go look back at the Iron Curtain.
See how that went so well?

Carving up tribal turf,
Installing all those Checkpoint Charlies,
(so kids, go Google it! Start with Berlin,
The Cold War, the creation of Soviet serfdom).

Because once you’ve built a wall
it’s not just about letting people in.
It’s also about allowing things out, which
has a tendency to make people yearn for them to fall.

The Romans tried it with the Picts.
So perhaps the building of walls is all about
holding those empire necklines,
just fashioned out of brick and edict.

It. might be time to have a long new think tank.
Because once you have built a wall
people may not want to be come in.
They may decide to drop you for your
ideological  kink. And then leave you to drown
and go down with the bubbles in your own kitchen sink.

Like the anchorites of the last dark age,
walling themselves in to be closer to God,
you are free to watch from behind your barbed wire even if you do still have nukes.
So it is possible to learn to live without America,
because no one wants to hang out with jerks.

Copyright 2018 Bee Smith