Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Tree poems across time

Tree poems across time

By John Labella

1. Calle Acacia

lines down and up and into saying –

how still the bark,

how quietly


insists what ought to be there

is. The lines
move as though along a line like

As above, so below.

Hope conniving with the beggary
of foliage

to mark
the place where the sun gives up

and Time gives


2. Realism

When you hear a tree

tell you it wants to be copied,
a demon or god

is telling you
not to neglect the material.

Lustrous eucalyptus
grain beneath the flaking; pine
scent of carpenters.

The giver of ebony
begets the velvet persimmon.

Now consider the shade:

the eaten
have left behind some feathers;

pearly dung
stippled with petioles
of heat.

What’s properly yours to do
as you sweat thought

is give nothing

to these slow raptures
calling, whichever tree calls. 

My thirst for sunlight
is a hard thing, one says.

Do not, says the tree, feign it.

3. Elm and Oak

stripped trees,


one as the other

made for winds
to fell.

Kinds of frozen torque

lift all
their dirt heavenward

— elm, oak,

leafless lines

cannot finally
supplant the saints

to prove
the stages of ascent

are darker.


John Labella

John Labella is currently, as a Fulbright fellow, a visiting assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He obtained his doctorate in English from Princeton University. Born and raised in Cebu, he loves cities with theatres, as well as mountains and rivers without end.

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