To inosculate

This is how two trees come together as a verb:

The action of wind and weather rubs the

Trunking stems, wears down their hides of bark

Until, shedding the singular, they fix and engraft.

I saw two sycamores – their branches held aloft,

You’d almost think them paused in greeting –

With their bodies joined, creakingly growing.

They knew the trick to living long and well is sharing.

Different species of tree – ash and beech,

Oak and wych – have been known to husband like this:

Fused through lipless kiss. Forgetting separateness.

In this wound, where bark gives way to bark,

There is strength through scarring – a deep tissue spark

Uniting, healing, as if by magic, the other.

Each stripping, cleaving, peeling their barriers back.

Life is in the cracks. You scratch my back and

I’ll scratch yours. They’re stronger than either

Tree was growing singly. Combinedly, as ’twere

A lover’s knot, they forge a burl deadlocked.

When did rubbing become fixed embrace?

Was it a slow relenting over a hard winter once

When one tree, kissingly, cleft to its neighbour?

A mutual surrender to throw their lots in together.

Here they stand, intransigent, statued forever:

Old, wizened couple, leaning one on the other.

They are verbing together: always grafting, busily

working, co-mingling sap in the onrush of Spring –

Harvesting, growing into one another’s rings with age:

Unmoving, yet always sucking face.

This is how to make a craft of symbiosis.

In comparison with trees, a human kiss, so transitory –

A momentary rubbing of lips – is a post-it note

To the story written in a fixed, wooden kiss.

This verbing teaches me to strip my skin

And, rubbed raw of fear, let the light back in.

Inosculated sycamores beside the Muker hay meadows, Swaledale, Yorkshire

To all the trees

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.