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In memory of


with drawings by Sam Forder.


a tree trying to take root
in the chilly air
while you sit on a branch
in its crown
along the wet ground
and breathe deeply

another tree stands
on the same muddy bank
the surrogate shore

the trembling reflection
of its needles in backwater
seems more permanent
than this rough bark
upon which you rest your hand

but now you wonder
which can guide you—
your finger pointing at ripples
or your callous palm

nothing but ashes scattered
in the bay
you will never sit on that shore

these ashes in your mouth
full of saliva

if you spit on the ground
maybe some thistle will sprout
its spray of blue

not-yet-last words fade
another voice explains
hangs up

you wait for the second call
that never comes
yet has in fact come through
with your own variants
for more than a decade

silence that is no longer sleep
nor the width of the ocean
the continent between

perhaps what you heard
during all those centuries

indeed try to remember
what you listened to
for millennia
before you were born

there is this hollowness
that cannot hold
enough solace for you
cannot soothe and shelter

yet it is also as if
this hollowness were not
what you think it is
or would like it to be

should not be enclosed
were not enclosed

were instead
a hollowness
that cannot hold

another origin
returns to the seawater
the grave
that is no grave

and the specks fall
to the sandy firmament
from which something might
burrow down
or rise
through the liquid darkness
to root in the air

Note: the imagery of the first and last poems of this sequence allude to a remark by the philosopher Simone Weil: “L’arbre est en vérité enraciné dans le ciel.” This perspective was called to my attention by the Italian poet Franca Mancinelli, who uses Weil’s words as one of the epigraphs to her book Libretto di transito, which I translated as The Little Book of Passage (The Bitter Oleander Press, 2018).

JOHN TAYLOR is an American writer, poet, translator, and critic who has lived in France since 1977. A contributing editor to The Fortnightly Review, he has published two books in the Odd Volumes series: his “double book” with the Swiss poet Pierre Chappuis, A Notebook of Clouds and A Notebook of Ridges, and his translation of Philippe Jaccottet’s Truinas, 21 April 2001. His most recent book of poetry is Remembrance of Water & Twenty-Five Trees (The Bitter Oleander Press).

SAM FORDER is a painter and draughtsman who lives and works near Cambridge, UK. He studied at Falmouth College of Art and The Royal Drawing School. His drawings are ultimately responsive to a lit moment whether sur le motif or in memory. His paintings manifest slowly over many months in the studio.

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