Wednesday, March 9, 2011


It's Ash Wednesday, and I've given up buying books for Lent. This puts me on the same, strict diet my brother is on: no more books till you read the unread books you already have. One of the books I already have is The Springhouse, by Joyce Wilson, and today I read it straight through.

The book opens and closes with the springhouse, literally, a title poem and then "The Springhouse in Winter," to end the book as the year ends, with all kinds of life in between: natural life--poems about chickens, a fox, tadpoles, hoar frost, the brook, a spittle bug, a walking stick, and a dead bee--and poems about family life, which include trouble and grief.

But, in honor of Ash Wednesday, I'll share with you a favorite (in which family and nature mix):

The Ash Tree

To reach so wide, it must have been alone
for a long time and in an open field.

Our mother walked an old hemp rope around
the trunk of the ash tree and marked it,

and then we spread the rope out on the lawn
to measure just how much our love had grown

in the ten years since she had counted lengths
with him, our father died, and we had moved.

Ten years since she had wrapped her arms around--!
It showed an increase of eleven feet.

We got the car to take us back to town
and left the tree, our house, and our old street.

I love the simplicity of that first couplet, and seeing the tree there alone, which I can do thanks to the title. Other poems in this book contain lots of true rhyme, even rhyming couplets, and well-used slant rhyme, but I like the subtle and mere echoes of rhyme in this poem--how "alone," "lawn, "grown," and "town" ring together like church bells, how "around" is repeated, how "feet" and "street" make the poem end on a rhyme.

I like how the nostalgia here is restrained.

I love learning things from poems and poets.  I learned from poet Richard Jones that ashes are good for the garden.  I learned from Joyce Wilson how love can and can't be measured.

To learn more about Ash Wednesday from a poet, take a look at Kristin Berkey-Abbott's blog entry on it. To see more paintings by Jonathan Koch, who has let me decorate my blog with his, go here.  The one above is called Mandarin, Shell, Junebug.


Kristin said...

Thanks for the link!

Julie Kistler said...

Once when I was young, I was in a chorus which sang a song called "The Ash Grove." It was my favorite song and I kept trying to lobby to get the chorus to perform it at our little concerts. And I still remember the song! And we have a big ash in the front yard, too. A lovely tree. I shall honor it for Ash Wednesday.

Collagemama said...

I'm touched by this poem. I always feel that trees watch over families. This will be the first spring break I've not driven to Nebraska and stayed in the old family home and cleaned up the fallen branches...

Nancy Devine said...

the paintings are absolutely delicious.