Enter into the life of the trees.
Know your relationship and understand
their language, unspoken, unwritten talk.
Answer back to them . . . soul words, earth words.
……….— Emily Carr, 1932
Where can I find your living soul?
Not photographs, where clothes and pose
conceal. Not canvases, their oil
darkened and cracked. One late touch holds
a clue: the same red-brown pigment
kindling your Forest trunks imbues
your Self-Portrait, a whispered hint
of kinship among the free and wild.
To draw near me, the portrait says,
enter into the life of the trees.
As you did, orphan refuged under
the Garry oak whose lap of roots
held you in their quiet fastness,
and whose fingers—after winter
had thinned them down to whitened bone—
fluttered to life and overflowed
each spring with catkin rings: no words,
but a leaf-lisp of continued
lullaby, as if the woods
knew your relationship and understood
your longing for a foster home
as far beneath human language
as roots reach beneath the turmoil
of undergrowth and its tangled
syntax in search of sister-roots,
mainstays in a social network
whose conversations your art grew
to enter into, the mute, fluent
handle of your brush nodding back
their language: unspoken, unwritten talk.
The oak and its companion trees
were home and school for you and for
your family of wild creatures:
the monkey curled up in her cedar—
cuddled into its very heart—
inhaled its peace, as you breathed in
from the pines’ honourable straightness
perfume in response to your caress,
and when winds talked through leaves, the birds
answered back to them soul words, earth words.
John Reibetanz’s chapbook, Con- versing with Wang An-shih was published by Junction Books in 2018 and an eleventh collection, By Hand, was published by Brick Books in 2019. Junction Books will publish Conversing with Henry David Thoreau, another collection of glosas, in 2020. John lives in Toronto.