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    abstract style illustration of tree trunks covered in colorful lichen

    Poem: “The Hunger Winter, 1944–5”

    (The Netherlands)

    By Susan de Sola

    September 14, 2021
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    This poem was a finalist for Plough’s 2021 Rhina Espaillat Poetry Award.


    A dark, dictated famine made by war.
    Small fires, for warmth, lit up the towns; canals
    blockaded by command froze up, as if
    to make a point. The Dutch began to starve.
    They gnawed on sugar beets and tulip bulbs.

    Out walking here, in Naarden’s ancient woods,
    I see a stand of trees made strange by war.
    Bullets have signed the bark, their wounds a mad
    and modern furioso. No Arden here.
    And in the rows of trees, a few grow straight
    but only for a foot or two, then veer
    off east or west, continuing to rise
    within a different column of air as if
    an origami fold had given them
    a surreal twist. These trees were cut for fuel
    but over seven decades grew again.
    Time is simple for a tree, it hides
    its rings inside, a strange geometry
    by which a rise inscribes itself as round.
    The reckoning of feet or yards remains
    visible, as though the tree might be
    a giant wooden ruler marking years.
    These limping trees look frightened, almost as if,
    having seen something terrible, they tried
    to take a step—they tried to walk, or run.
    Three-quarters of a century is long,
    even if less long for trees, which hold
    their winters close, and imperceptibly, rise.
    They never will grow straight now, yet they grow.


    Watch Susan de Sola read her poem at the first annual Rhina Espaillat Poetry Award ceremony.

    abstract style illustration of tree trunks covered in colorful lichen

    Eyvind Earle, Jeweled Trees, oil, 1999 © 2021 Eyvind Earle Publishing. Used by permission.

    Contributed By Susan de Sola

    Susan de Sola is a winner of the Frost Farm Prize and the David Reid Poetry Translation Prize. Her poems have appeared in many publications, such as the Hudson Review and PN Review. Her collection, Frozen Charlotte, was published recently by Able Muse Press. She holds a PhD in English from Johns Hopkins University and has been a faculty member at the West Chester Poetry Conference. A native New Yorker, she lives near Amsterdam with her family.

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