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Anniversary Edition (November 2023)

Leaf Pattern

Tongues in Trees
By Sharon Whitehill

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And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks. –As You Like It

Long before Goodnight Moon was composed,

I said hello every night to my pillow, my lamp,

and my woolly orange blanket: a cozy reunion,

after the long day apart, with companions alive

and as connected to me as the family cats. An outlook

my parents indulged, dissipating as I grew up,

a human habit of mind that sees each living

and non-living thing as a being, a self.

 

A lost gift, Wordsworth opined, which he equated

with memories of heaven that fade as we age,

though according to Freud it’s merely an immature

cultural stage superseded by reason and science.

Not so different, to me, from the woman

who thrilled to the image of Jesus, burned like a brand

on the tortilla she scooped from her griddle.

Not unlike those wee faerie folk in green scarves,

light dancing around them, acknowledged not only

by Scottish villagers but by the Galloway doctor

who hid from them on the dark road as they trooped past.

 

Perhaps we too easily dismiss such a pre-pagan ethos,

everyday objects and places imbued with mysterious magic.

Like Mauna Kea, the mountain revered as the eldest

of ancestors god in Hawaii. Like Taranis, thunder deity

of Roman Celts, but also the thunder itself. Like spirits

who live inside the masks of the Bwa people of Mali

and Burkina Faso.

 

Projection, psychologists say: ideas and feelings

imprinted on concrete locales. And yet they survive:

in the storm hag of Scotland who washes her tartan

until it turns white and falls as the snow; in the divinities

of the tribal Malaysian Semang, who dwell in stone pillars

and under the earth; in sacred Navajo beings like Ma’ii,

the coyote, Niltsi, the wind, or alien gods like the Monster

Who Kicks People Down Cliffs. 

 

And even the otherwise secular person who once

had a vision of all things in nature as one:

every tree, leaf, blade of grass, he said, lit from within

as if incandescent. Such moments, most often granted

to mystics and very young children, serve others,

serve me, as a humbling reminder of how small we are

in the vast network of being.

Taking Notes

Sharon Whitehill is a retired English professor from West Michigan now living in Port Charlotte, Florida. In addition to poems published in various literary magazines, her publications include two scholarly biographies, two memoirs, two poetry chapbooks, and a full collection of poems. Her chapbook, This Sad and Tender Time, is due out winter 2024.

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