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.