Editor’s Note: “Poems to Listen By” is an audio series where, over time, we will explore some of the themes in the Poet Laura checklist, as well as Tweetspeak’s “Year of Wisdom” theme throughout 2020.
Poems to Listen By: Sharing the Canopy: 8 Ways Trees Embody Our Stories—The Maples of Dachau. Presented by Laurie Klein
From their stalwart trunks to tapering limbs, trees, and tree poems, may sober us as well as model hope. In the skeletonized leaves of winter we glimpse an alternative, darker “understory”; it’s hard to imagine anything so frayed and brittle once pulsed with life.
Over time, trees—like humans—may weather extreme shocks, often fighting for life. They show us how to survive amid deprivation.
In my poem “The Maples of Dachau,” the speaker summons a “War Story” yet to be told.
The Maples of Dachau
First, there were songbirds I couldn’t
believe, then, those photographs—
shins like matchsticks, the ember-ed
eyes. How grateful they were to simply
lie still. In the typhus hut,
a survivor later wrote,
wooden-spoon men would nest,
safe in the warmth of each other’s need.
I thought of a soldier I never
saluted—my father, who never mentioned
war. He folded our flag the way some
tuck an ailing child into bed. Tender as April.
What if my dad was somebody’s
hero? I imagine a Dachau maple seed,
placed under my pillow, and I dream
him young, in uniform, all nose and legs,
walking my way beneath tall trees.
Who do you need to imagine walking your way? I hope you’ll daydream about it; perhaps, even write about it . . .
Browse More Poems to Listen By with Laurie Klein
Photo by けんたま/KENTAMA, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Poems used with permission. Audio and script by Laurie Klein with thanks to Pat Stien for direction and Bill Klein for engineering and music from his solo album, “Lauda.”
Klein, Laurie, “The Maples of Dachau,” first published in Jewish Currents.
- Poems to Listen By: Black Bird Soirée 06—Noah’s Crow - May 17, 2023
- Poems to Listen By: Black Bird Soirée 05—Poet, In Japan Alps - April 26, 2023
- Poems to Listen By: Black Bird Soirée 04—A Plausible Story - March 29, 2023
L.L. Barkat says
Oh, Laurie! This turned out to be so timely in its appearance (and we did not plan it that way). Thank you for your poem, which is quite beautiful. And your voice, which is, as always, also quite beautiful.
Laurie Klein says
L.L., I agree, the timing gives me shivers—the good kind. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share words written years ago that now seem freshly vital again amid the challenges, sorrows, and opportunities of surreal days.
Megan Willome says
I agree on the timeliness of this post. Your poem got me to thinking and writing, Laurie–a sure sign of a good one. I’ve been writing about trees a lot lately, especially as I watch those in my neighborhood turn spring. This is a haibun:
Each day I visit the overgrown pecan orchard. It’s alive. No disease, but what was once fertilized and pruned and harvested is now tangled and mouldering. I can’t turn the tide for a hundred abandoned trees but i do what I can, help it cleave, help it yield. The roots are good, though there’s no telling how they will outlast this drought.
Each day he visits
the orchard of his youth–the
one that never was
Laurie Klein says
I’m so glad you’re writing about trees!
“… I do what I can, help it cleave, help it yield.” Words to live by.
And what a vivid, wabi-sabi-esque setting. You take me there.
“I visit / he visits”
O the poignancy of those closing lines!
Oh! This line: “safe in the warmth of each other’s need”
Finding comfort in your poem, Laurie.
Laurie Klein says
Katie, for some reason while lying awake last night in the wee hours I thought of that very line. I’m grateful it spoke to you. Thanks for letting me know. May fresh sources of comfort continue to meet, then surround, you in these scary days.