The Forest as the Trees: Poetry as Solitude and Consciousness

Though surely lesser now, it is still true to say, that a child grows up in the woods.

Or more specifically the backyards, the cabins, the lakes, on the porch swings. Also on the landings of stairs, the closet spaces, the basements, the attics, the garages. When growing, we avoid; we search, we hide, we find those lonely places, empty soil to put our roots in. The places where no adults will find us, where other children and youth might stumble in. And so, at some point in time, a child will find their way to the woods, and that, for a time, will be holy ground.

Therefore it should be no wonder why poets often find themselves writing of the trees, the brooks, the brambles, the beehives, the boulders and sandstone; and of the stairwells, the gaps between buildings, the cellars, tented blankets, the cupboards large enough to sleep in. Poetry goes backward; the beginning of the poem is the end. Like a seed, it all stems from a solitary point. Before we pen, we ask ourselves, when did we first experience our solitude? Once we answer, the poem begins.

Identity rests inside solitude. It is this reason poems can feel lonely. Each poem, more so then a reflection of society through the eyes of a poet, is a reflection of the poet through the eyes of society through the eyes of the poet. Poetry is metacognitive. One must think about the words through one’s own personal, internal meanings of the words, then spit them back up inside out. Now it is a poem; now the readers can find themselves, in the holes, in the small spaces, in the emptiness of objective meaning. Now a soul can break the bonds of physical truth; a heart can be a rice ball, a cow’s tongue, a brick house, a cardinal bird—nothing is rejected. A human being, whole and injured and striving, can thunder in.

This is how poetry makes sense, yet does not make sense. One can “get” a poem, without being able to put forth any concrete explanation as to why. Though the present is segregated and the future fragmented, the past is one. We all have a past, and that past has merged into the river of passing time. It is the past that poetry draws its power from. We read a poem, and we remember: the icy chill of snow slipping under our mittens, the first sting of alcohol on our lips, a death in the family, an abandonment, a fear, a light bulb string being pulled—its texture in our thumb and forefinger, its click, the orange bloom sudden in the dark.

That’s poetry: the specific. The specific in a billowing cloak and squeaky, black shoes. The specific as we know it, in our mouths, stuck to the bottom of our feet, cupped in our palms, the coolness of the pool in hot August summer creeping around our waist. The exact moments, the exact feelings, stitched into a couplet, jolted to life through archaic verse, freed by a daggering line. Poetry is consciousness, not as the author writes it, but as the person lives it: watching television, grandpa’s cigar, fucking on the couch last spring, the television, a fly buzzing yesterday night, old sadness, the potluck, the shaking of your mother’s hands. That’s the mind uncured. That’s the mind unfiltered, set wild, without the gardener’s tools. Unlike conversation, unlike our social media feeds, our albums, unlike books the head is unordered; one thinks of french kissing then attends their own funeral in their mind. Poetry as thought is, poetry as nature is; brutality and beauty all in one.

The forests, the woods, we came from them. Before we were born, before our parents and our grandparents and their parents were born we came from them. The land untamed, the alphabets unheard of, the symbols and icons wheeling, the objects without names. As children, we must have dreamed, day and night in splintered mosaics and menageries.

A poem has no need to tell a story. The poem understands the forest as the trees. A poem speaks of the clash of silverware on the tile, that one July, before the dog died, and you recalled the scream of tires in the November slush, the forks and spoons screeching, the baseball shattered the window, then silence, and the rains didn’t come. You boiled in the heat. You stuck your underwear in the freezer, snuck Vodka from grandpa’s liquor cabinet, the roar of the ocean’s waves, at the lighthouse in September, your sister lost her necklace in the foam. She cried, you remember, how you cried because she was crying, you tasted copper, you had bit your lip, you wondered about what would have happened if you hadn’t blown out the candle, if home would have burned.

You get the poem. It’s your poem. You found it in the bottom drawer, behind the jackets, in the woods. You grew there. You remember the growing pains, the stretches, the pulls. You tried to write it, but you couldn’t. The words turned to ash in your hands, the pencil was a wing that wouldn’t fly. So you stopped trying to tell the story. You’re not a story anyhow. No one’s a story.

But you caught a strand of hair in a poem. It felt dark green. All alone, no one heard, you thought of the pines.


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