I keep thinking I want to say something about woodchucks. Like, how many (wood) poems could a woodchuck write if a woodchuck could write (wood) poems. It doesn’t have the same flair when you start swapping out chucks for poems. But what if a woodchuck could write poems? Would he write poems about wood? Or wouldn’t he?
We’ve gathered a collection of poems about wood that would make any woodchuck smile. If a woodchuck could smile. Or would.
Something blurred, warmed
in the eye’s corner, like woodsmoke
but when you turned to look
the stoop was still, the pumpkin
and tacky mum pot wouldn’t talk —
just a rattle
at the gutter and a sense
of curtains, somewhere, pulled.
Five of them later, scarfing the oak’s
laying a dream of snakes.
Needy and reticent
at once, these squirrels in charred November
recall, in Virgil,
what it is to feel:
swarming, then darting loose; obscure
hunches that refuse
to speak, but still expect
in some flash of luck
to be revealed. The less you try
to notice them,
the more they will know of you.
— Nate Klug, author of Rude Woods
You have towered here
leaning half over the wall
all my awareness
years before I knew
what silkworm was or China
I felt your berries
pulp under my feet
tracked your purple all over
a sapling planted
by some sea captain to make
shade for a future
This winter you lost
one of your long low branches
to a backed-up car
and the old woman
who has known you all her life
wept at the split wood
Your bark is wrinkled
more deeply than any face
you live so slowly
do our voices sound
to you like the fluttering
of paper moth wings
do we seem rootless
holding fast to the anchor
of the saddest things
— Craig Arnold, author of Made Flesh
I gave up
from the silence
— LW Lindquist, author of Adjustments
A sleeper, they used to call it—
four passes with the giant round saw
and you had a crosstie, 7 inches by 9 of white oak—
at two hundred pounds nearly twice my weight
and ready to break finger or toe—
like coffin lids, those leftover slabs,
their new-sawn faces turning gold and brown
as my own in the hot Virginia sun,
drying toward the winter and the woodsaw
and on the day of that chore
I turned over a good, thick one
looking for the balance point
and roused a three-foot copperhead,
gold and brown like the wood,
disdaining the shoe it muscled across,
each rib distinct as a needle stitching leather,
heavy on my foot as a crosstie.
— David Black, author of The Clown in the Tent
Early morning, the earth is nothing.
The sprawling mocha wood sleeps,
the blond fescue still.
Then, the golden prairie flames,
the timber plain consumed.
— Dave Malone, author of O: Love Poems from the Ozarks
Jam jar of cigarette ends and ashes on his workbench,
hammer he nailed our address to a stump with,
balsa wood steamship, half-finished—
is that him, waving from the stern? Well, good luck to him.
Slur of sunlight filling the backyard, August’s high wattage,
white blossoming, it’s a curve, it comes back. My mother
in a patio chair, leaning forward, squinting, threading
her needle again, her eye lifts to the roof, to my brother,
who stands and jerks his arm upward—he might be
insulting the sky, but he’s only letting go
a bit of green, a molded plastic soldier
tied to a parachute, thin as a bread bag, it rises, it arcs
against the blue—good luck to it—my sister and I below,
heads tilted back as we stand in the grass, good
luck to all of us, still here, still in love with it.
— Chris Forhan, author of Black Leapt In
Listen. . .
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
— Adelaide Crapsey, for more see Verse
From this room you see what your father saw:
valley and dark blue clouds, the pond’s lip
butted to the sloping hill, toy lights winking
to life so far below. In this room tools
are ranged on every wall—the big saw in its cabinet,
routers and lathes, the hand tools slowly rusting
in their drawers. The year he died your father
spent what time he could here. Turning a blank,
he’d watch the trees color and come into full leaf,
forget what bloomed in him. His last wish
was that his body be burned, so there is no place
you can go to look for him. On good days
you imagine him roaming, amazed, through an enormous
light-filled place. You teach yourself, now,
what he knew: how at the center of each tree
there is a spine of dead wood, buried beneath
sapwood and bark, where the tree shapes dense,
extravagant, wild grains. This is the part
you work, using rare woods your father never dared—
bubinga, purpleheart, amboina, whose red dust stains
what it touches. As the sun falls its last light blesses
and abandons what is in this room, and you work through
the hour of its lapse, keeping your hand steady against
the jigging saw, scraping the plane in one clean line.
Still, every piece you make bears on some face
the faint mark of your tools, a dig beyond repair,
some knot that can’t be sanded or refined.
— Harriet Brown, author of Brave Girl Eating
9. In a Blue Wood
The couple in Van Gogh’s blue wood is walking
where there is no path, amid tall,
seemingly branchless blue and pink trees. The tree crowns
are beyond the frame, reaching up into our mind’s eye—
because we know where trees go and that they are full
of wind and a thousand softly stirring
machines that are alive. Equally out of sight, for
nests of intricately woven strength and fragility hang
like proofs that there are no diagrams or maps
for life’s most important journeys. The horizon
at the couple’s back, between the trees, is black.
They walk toward light. Crowds of waist-high flowers,
on thick-leaved stalks, sing in stout slurries of pink and white.
The couple cannot think of anything good
ever coming from anger, so they are more happy than not.
That could be true. Maybe I want it to be
true of me, of us. And like us, they may have worn paths
to the most forest-deep secrets in each other’s lives.
Or perhaps they are only now on their way to the place
where they will become lovers, the excitement of their flesh
through their clothes singing, making them careless,
giddy, and light as birds in flight.
Of course, we can’t know any of this. Perhaps, even Van Gogh
didn’t know anything about them: so many unseen possibilities
lived in a blue wood, so like ours.
— Richard Levine, author of A Tide of a Hundred Mountains
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
— Robert Frost
Poems are used with permission of the publisher or poet via Every Day Poems, appeared in our weekly poetry prompts, or are in the public domain. Photo by James Jordan, Creative Commons license via Flickr.
How to Write a Poem uses images like the buzz, the switch, the wave—from the Billy Collins poem “Introduction to Poetry”—to guide writers into new ways of writing poems. Excellent teaching tool. Anthology and prompts included.
“How to Write a Poem is a classroom must-have.”
—Callie Feyen, English Teacher, Maryland