The Candle Tree

The hardest part is slogging up the hill
to the railway station; past the Moresque
villa with its minaret from where you can see
all the southern lake, its towers and steeples,
the hills declining towards rice fields with their low
and stagnant waters, Novara’s dome, and,
further, Milan’s great and smog-smudged plain,
its sea of mist, the shoals of lorries, cars,
and to the sun-sinking west, Monte Rosa’s
rocks and glaciers, its antique snows.

Not much of a playground: a strip of land
by the railway line left uncemented but for
that square, intended perhaps to cover up –
the crime. I know what lies there. I know how
to draw it up from underground: the tongue
curled this way, a whistle hardly sounding, a
hint of breath – and it stirs, wakes, stretches,
reaches up, thrusts through the covering ground
towards the waiting sky. I watch as it rises from
its concrete tomb, deep green as bottled wine.

Unfurling, shaking out its branches, it holds out
boughs that run with birds, songs winding like
maypole ribbons round and round. A nuthatch
patters up the trunk, a leaf flutters free, whirls
spiralling down. A breeze – from where? –
rustles words I can’t make out. The tree whispers
in the wind, its shadow laced with tatted light,
nuts swelling polished in their knobbled shells.

The repetitive piping of the Domo train
calls me from this unpollarded god, whose
rich foliage was never maimed by axe or saw until
the final, fatal cut – unlike the crippled,
stunted chestnuts by the lake that shame
our keeping of the earth. The train shunts
northwards into dusk, slowly past the tree
whose candles light up one by one
as it sinks, softly flaming, underground.

The Candle Tree


Joined April 2008

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