Poet’s corner: When three trees fall in the forest

The Force
When I hear a giant,
Jack in the Beanstalk creaking,
I think tree immediately,
but puzzle when it persists,
without a trace of wind.
I enter the woods cautiously,
with an eye on the canopy?
and witness, after maybe
eighty years of growing?
a top-heavy poplar, easing
slowly as an archly fainting
maiden down?then, suddenly
as an accident to ground?
with an awesome final display
of its ship’s mast length
and emperor’s girth?taking
smaller trees and limbs with it
like collateral proletariat,
or an ancient pharaoh buried
with sacrificial servants?
but more shocking is
this third witnessing in one month,
four fallen before me this year,
after a lifetime of none.
Trees growing peacefully
for longer lives than mine?
throwing themselves at my feet
with tons of literal force.
I don’t mean this egotistically,
though any first person use
indicts: Is it me,
 electrically, am I become
some awful god of falling trees?
— April Ossmann
Published in “Birchsong II” (Blueline Press, 2018)
April Ossmann is author of “Event Boundaries” (Four Way Books, 2017) and “Anxious Music” (Four Way Books, 2007), and recipient of a 2013 Vermont Arts Council Creation Grant. She has published her poems widely, including in Colorado Review and Harvard Review, and various anthologies. She is an editing and publishing consultant (aprilossmann.com), and a faculty editor for the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing Program at Sierra Nevada College. She was executive director of Alice James Books from 2000 to 2008, and currently lives in West Windsor, Vt.
The poem, “The Force” by West Windsor poet April Ossmann, takes its readers on much more than a walk in the woods through its artful use of intrigue and surprise. We are carried along by its auditory images as much as by the visual ones. We hear the loud creaking sound early on as the speaker steps cautiously into the forest toward the beckoning tree and its small, slow movements. There is a sense of time being drawn out, so we aren’t sure how much has passed — it could be one minute, or many. We, too, are drawn toward the growing sound as we watch the speaker “puzzle when it persists/ without a trace of wind.”
Woven throughout the poem is a tale of synchronicity, something Carl Jung defined as events that move “beyond the realm of mere coincidence, especially if they occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related.” The unlikeliness of the poem’s events are enough to give the speaker pause. “This third witnessing in one month, four fallen before me this year,” she says of the falling trees.
There is also plenty of metaphor in this poem, something related to synchronicity with its symbols full of meaning. In fact, the whole poem feels like one long metaphor, but one based on what seems an actual event. The falling trees could be symbolic of many things — decay and weakening, breakdown of a system, person, or place, or cleansing and renewal. The word metaphor itself comes from a Greek word meaning to transport or carry across, as in to new levels of meaning or experience. Metaphor, especially within poetry and art, works on our unconscious, which often knows more than our thinking mind; it can awaken the sleeping parts of us.
I imagine the image of the tree and its falling could bring up something different for everyone. For me on a personal level, the fallen tree brings thoughts of recent family loss. But on a broader level, it brings something entirely different, influenced in part by the speaker’s choice of words. We have the very specific image of an “emperor’s girth” to describe the tree. As it falls it takes “smaller trees and limbs with it/ like collateral proletariat,” a unique and startling image. By the poem’s end, this tree has in my mind taken the form of various public figures with particularly egregious behavior, taking the fall they are likely destined for. Nature loves a good cleansing.
Usually after a big fall, there is more room for everyone and everything else, especially those that had been pushed too far into the shadows. And usually there is more light; a lot more light. Not a bad thing to hope for.
Susan Jefts is a poet and educator living near Middlebury, Vermont, whose work has been published throughout the state and country, most recently in the “Vermont Anthology, Birchsong, Volume II.” She is currently finalizing a book of poetry and will be offering workshops this fall using poetry both indoors and out to explore our relationships to nature, and how we are informed by its energy and beauty. For more info, contact her at [email protected]. Her website is manyriverslifeguidance.com.

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