To all the trees I’ve ever loved:
To the top-lofty pines in the Surbiton rec
Whose swaying called down fear like an incubus on my chest;
Whose sails the wind caught
And who smote me with the memory of the ’90s gale
When the wind had taken my five-year-old self for a tree
And uprooted and flown the branches of me,
Tethered by a hand to my heart-in-her-mouth minder.
O how the tree me flew, shook and quaked her leaves –
I looked askance at trees with that
Fear on my chest until – what – eight years?
Then I climbed (the youngest of four) –
Learning the limb-trick from sisters before –
All the lightning-blasted tree gods of Richmond Park.
I can still feel the smooth handholds of pale, barkless wood
As I hoisted into the Old Sycamore’s embrace at Petersham Gate;
Each branch’s worn depression had its function:
Here in a timbery nook a place for my teacup;
Here my fancied crown would go;
There a hollowed dip for my legs, just so.
Of the woods I was queen.
And in Bolton, Yorkshire, on holiday for a time,
I found another worthy trunking throne;
Its limbs stepped nicely for my climb
(I liked best to climb in secret and alone,
This vantage point to view the corduroy fields below);
To the tree which gave up a fine bow for my father
To bend and string for the Maid Marian in me;
To all the trees that were ever dens to embower me:
Where I scraped my knees and mudded school gingham dresses;
To the bone-tangling graveyard yews with their dark inky bark;
To the fierce, prickling hollies that smarted young fingers;
To my cathedral of horse chestnuts on Coach Lane, burning fiercely in autumn rains.
And you, my Spreader Oak, that I grow with now,
Cooking your acorn children on your boughs;
Older than me by several winters been and gone:
I would know you down to the heartwood bone.
Spread o’er me your speckled, scalloped leaves,
With their wasp-gall hangers-on,
So that I can breathe,
So that I can breathe.