from The Laurel Tree Poem by Louis Simpson

from The Laurel Tree

In the clear light that confuses everything
Only you, dark laurel,
Shadow my house,

Lifting your arms in the anguish
Of nature at the stake.
And at night, quivering with tears,

You are like the tree called Tasso's.
Crippled, and hooped with iron,
It stands on Peter's hill.

When the lovers prop their bicycles
And sit on the high benches
That look across to eternity,

That tree makes their own torsion
Seem natural. And so, they're comforted.

One of the local philosophers ...
He says, "In California
We have the old anarchist tradition."

What can he mean? Is there an anarchist tradition?
And why would an anarchist want one?
O California,

Is there a tree without opinions?
Come, let me clasp you!
Let me feel the idea breathing.

I too cry O for a life of sensations
Rather than thoughts—
"The sayling Pine, the Cedar proud and tall."

Like the girls in our neighborhood,
They're beautiful and silent.

As I was digging in the back yard
I thought of a man in China.
A lifetime, it seemed, we gazed at each other.

I could see and hear his heartbeats
Like a spade hurling clods.
He pointed behind him, and I saw

That the hills were covered with armed men,
And they were all on the other side
Of the life that I held dear.

He said, "We are as various
As the twigs of a tree,
But now the tree moves as one man.

It walks. And the earth trembles
When a race of slaves is leaving."

I said, "Yet, all these people
Will fall down as one man
When the entrails of a bomb are breathing.

When we came down from Chosin
Carrying the guns in dainty snow-wear
And all the dead we had to,

It was a time of forgetfulness,
Like a plucked string.
It was a river of darkness.

Was it not so on your side, when you came
To the sea that was covered with ships?
Let us speak to each other,

Let the word rise, making dark strokes in the air.
That bird flies over the heads of the armed men."

One part of the tree grows outward.
The other I saw when, with a light,
I explored the cellar—shattering roots.

They had broken through the wall,
As though there were something in my rubbish
That life would have at last.

I must be patient with shapes
Of automobile fenders and ketchup bottles.
These things are the beginning

Of things not visible to the naked eye.
It was so in the time of Tobit—
The dish glowed when the angel held it.

It is so that spiritual messengers
Deliver their meaning.

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