“I think it needs to be a little higher,” Susan says. She’s looking up into the apple tree on our church lawn, where my son Jack; his friend, also named Jack (we’ll call him Jack Y, to minimize confusion); and my daughter, Jane, are perched on branches of varying heights.
Jack’s mom, Janice, and I peer up through the leaves, too. We’ve just watched Susan hand a wind chime up to Jane, who passed it up to Jack Y, who passed it up to my Jack, seated on a branch about ten feet above our heads. He now holds the wind chime by a long green ribbon strung through its hanger and wrapped round a tree branch. He pulls the ribbon tighter around the branch, and the wind chime rises into the air.
Susan says, “I want it low enough for the wind to be able to catch it, but high enough that no one will steal it.”
The church sits on the main street through Queen Anne Hill, one of Seattle’s most walkable neighborhoods. The tree we’re standing under reaches its branches out over the sidewalk where parishioners, neighbors, shoppers, and visitors to the Hill stroll or stride from one end of this avenue to the other.
Jack pulls the ribbon a little tighter.
“I think that’s good,” Susan says. Jack ties a square knot in the ribbon to secure the chime. It flutes melodically as we finish our project, tying organza ribbons of various hues to the lower branches of the apple tree and stringing lengths of thin blue ribbon through paper printed with poems to hang in the tree. The wind catches the ribbons and sends them streaming. It catches the poems and sets them twirling.
Jane and my twins and Jack Y’s sister scamper around the lawn, picking flowers, which Jane affixes to the top of each poem. Together poem and flower twist in the breeze.
This is the third time Susan and I have dressed this tree in poems and ribbons. The first time, a dozen years ago, when we lived right up the street in a community house, we did it stealthily, a secret May Day surprise for our friends and neighbors. The second time, when my Jack was a toddler, the age his little brothers are now, we worked on a cold, gray, and blustery afternoon, with me leaving my finger-numbing ribbon-tying every few seconds to chase Jack back onto the lawn.
Today, Janice, Susan, and I work in the warmth of a sunny afternoon, the breeze just strong enough to set the chime ringing and the ribbons dancing. Six kids help us—three of them climbing into the tree to tie the ribbons, the other three shrieking as they chase each other around the grass and hide under a Japanese maple and the drooping branches of an enormous cedar.
People walk by on the sidewalk and smile. Several of them stop to grab a poem and read it. A few even stop to chat for awhile. Which is exactly what we want. The Poetree is an invitation to pause for a moment and actually notice that a beautiful apple tree spreads its leafy branches over your head, that there’s sun shining on green grass, that there are joyful children afoot on the lawn, that this place right here, this moment right now is worth pausing for, worth noticing, worth savoring. That’s what poetry at its best does: it calls attention to the present, the beauty and joy and wonder and gut-wrenching glory of it.
And that’s why hanging words from a tree with ribbons is an afternoon well-spent: these spinning pieces of laminated paper remind me to stop and look and listen.
Up in the cedar, Jack calls down to Jack Y, “Can you see me? I’m higher than the church roof!”
On the lawn, Janice holds one of my twins in her arms, spinning him around in a circle. He shrieks with laughter. Around them, the other littles scamper and dance and shout.
Above my head, ribbons and words pirouette in the Poetree, and the wind chime sings an antiphon to shouts and laughter.
Cover photo by Seyed Mostafa Zamani. Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post and post photos by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year.
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