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April: “Roots”

A poem by Joseph O’Brien

Jamie Wyeth “Roots”
Jamie Wyeth “Roots”

After Jamie Wyeth

  • Whan that April with his showres soote
  • The droughte of March hath perced to the roote...
  • —Chaucer
  • Down a ravine, the first fool flush of spring
  • Is always brown. The ice-carbuncled ground
  • Breaks down, roiling and sifting, revealing
  • An old oak’s tense, textured system of roots,
  • Like cut-away illustrations of sound
  • Found in schoolbooks, tied up in bolted knots
  • Of depth and shape, escaping beyond
  • Limits of either. Down the rucked ravine,
  • The waters rise like a fortune to come,
  • The kind blown in with sudden rain; between
  • Fox kit’s noisy eviction (that one night
  • In early spring) and skunk kit’s chronic home-
  • Lessness, a sheltering thatch of root,
  • Nested with clotted stone, begins to roam
  • Outside topsoil’s loamy island, masted
  • With a trunk, its each branch, a windy spar.
  • Below deck, the rusty clay, ruby-hued,
  • Grips thigh-boned runners, gasping as they creak,
  • And spells out tubers with fossilized char,
  • As April waits adventitiously to break
  • In waves as well over elm as larkspur...
  • To say that roots have a system is to say
  • Rain is symmetrical or Shakespeare is
  • Grammatical. But either way,
  • Our words don’t dig down deep enough
  • To tap the complexity — ours or nature’s —
  • For elements to take sufficient hold of,
  • Exhaling rain, sunning earth. Sure, Chaucer’s
  • April may very well engender flowers —
  • But only the thirsty taproot empowers.

Joseph O’Brien is poetry editor of the San Diego Reader.

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Jamie Wyeth “Roots”
Jamie Wyeth “Roots”

After Jamie Wyeth

  • Whan that April with his showres soote
  • The droughte of March hath perced to the roote...
  • —Chaucer
  • Down a ravine, the first fool flush of spring
  • Is always brown. The ice-carbuncled ground
  • Breaks down, roiling and sifting, revealing
  • An old oak’s tense, textured system of roots,
  • Like cut-away illustrations of sound
  • Found in schoolbooks, tied up in bolted knots
  • Of depth and shape, escaping beyond
  • Limits of either. Down the rucked ravine,
  • The waters rise like a fortune to come,
  • The kind blown in with sudden rain; between
  • Fox kit’s noisy eviction (that one night
  • In early spring) and skunk kit’s chronic home-
  • Lessness, a sheltering thatch of root,
  • Nested with clotted stone, begins to roam
  • Outside topsoil’s loamy island, masted
  • With a trunk, its each branch, a windy spar.
  • Below deck, the rusty clay, ruby-hued,
  • Grips thigh-boned runners, gasping as they creak,
  • And spells out tubers with fossilized char,
  • As April waits adventitiously to break
  • In waves as well over elm as larkspur...
  • To say that roots have a system is to say
  • Rain is symmetrical or Shakespeare is
  • Grammatical. But either way,
  • Our words don’t dig down deep enough
  • To tap the complexity — ours or nature’s —
  • For elements to take sufficient hold of,
  • Exhaling rain, sunning earth. Sure, Chaucer’s
  • April may very well engender flowers —
  • But only the thirsty taproot empowers.

Joseph O’Brien is poetry editor of the San Diego Reader.

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