Posted by: Mark Nielsen | February 12, 2010

Our Tree Across the Footpath (an original poem, for Dickinson and Merton)

“When my tongue is silent, I can rest in the silence of the forest. When my imagination is silent, the forest speaks to me, tells me of its unreality and of the Reality of God.”

– Thomas Merton, Entering the Silence: Becoming a Monk and Writer, p. 471

Some moments are infused with grace, if you’re paying attention.

We’ll get to my poem in a moment. Some background first. This morning I had the privelege of being a guest in my son’s second grade classroom to read to the kids. Since I have been writing a lot of poetry lately, and yesterday I was writing to some friends about my favorite inspirational poets, I chose a book of Emily Dickinson poems for kids.

Part of a good "poetry for Young People" series

I knew enough to forsee that this 125 year old poetry  might go over some of their heads. So I had to choose the poems carefully, then really sell it in the reading to help them see what Emily saw. It went swimmingly, as we talked about pilleated woodpeckers, migrating butterflies, nature imagery and personification in literature. We even got into Ms. Dickinson’s own illness and early death.

Second Grade Writer's Workshop Celebration

Then during the Q&A period after I had read five or six poems, one of the kids asked me what kind of poetry I write myself. (I had said  in my introduction that I write poems, and used to be a teacher.) So on a whim, I remembered that I had a couple of recently composed rough drafts on my Blackberry, and I opened up and read the poem below. It was composed, I think, on the spot somewhere out in my local forest preserve back in November 2009. It went over great, and it made my week to have an appreciative audience of seven year olds who really got it. Emily and Tom live on still…

So now, without further ado:

Our Tree Across the Footpath

Hello friend, covered in moss,

Home to my brothers the spiders.

Hold me close.

Keep the spider family within reach of each other,

Keep our enemy at bay.

Old Elm, you are a boundary marker

for all those who need one

(Which includes you).

I tell my sons and daughters that

were I to venture beyond this tree,

I would rush into the wild like a fool.

But the elm says I am not yet ready to go beyond the border.

I am still the wrong kind of fool.

I would trample what is sacred,

and miss the forest for the trees.

But I neither am I meant to dwell forever

In the bustling center of our village.

So this place, on the edge, is my safest place.

I am at my most useful here.

I am the fire-spotter above the tallest pines and oaks.

I am the sentry,

Watching and recording the comings and goings

of both stranger and friend

on this path.

This is how you bless me, Mrs. Elm,

With your enfolding embrace.

You are fallen, partially uprooted

Yet still alive —

Defining here from there, in from out.

After 200 years of soaking up sun,

You sacrificed yourself.

You laid down,

So the spiders of the ground would have a new home,

And so that we villagers

might now sink our own roots deeper,

In the soil that your rotting trunk turns into.

Now, because of you, we grow stronger,

quite entwined with each other,

Safe in your arms.



  1. Mark

    Sounds like you had a real Fun day at Grahams school. It must have been fun for you and Graham. I think I see Graham in the last row up at the top of the picture. Good Day!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: