Kathleen McPhilemy

Caroline’s Tree

Those nights, the gracious acacia
would draw itself on the window
and, although the wind could be heard,
the wind didn’t stir its branches;
Then, I would swing from my bedroom
on green, imagined lianas
to a distant and vertical city,
a shifting and different polity
of woodpeckers, finches and pigeons,
squirrels, blackbirds and starlings.

When I looked at Caroline’s tree
in all its many phases
and different stages of light
I wished I had been an artist,
to pick out the gold and the black
as the sun revolved through its branches
to record the black and white and red
of the woodpecker nipping up insects
grey and white curves of the pigeons
voluptuous on higher branches
the different grey of squirrels
daring on their high trapeze
goldfinches hidden in green
till they dared to come to the feeder
red and black and yellow.

Its leaves did not come early:
when other trees had stickily
broken out leaves and blossom
it stood austere and skeletal;
but through the summer and autumn
when all the rest had turned dry
carpeting the lawn in yellow
it stayed green and flourishing.

I looked to the gracious acacia
as an emblem of consolation
for the days of rawness and bruising;
but today it holds out wordless
the still bright scars of the chainsaw;
maimed and mutilated arms
where twigs and leaves should ramify.
Cutting it down to the size
of our walls and houses and gardens
they have laid waste the visionary city;
what remains is ordinary daylight.

Kathleen McPhilemy comes from Belfast and now lives in Oxford. She has published three collections of poems, including The Lion in the Forest (Katabasis) and her work appears regularly in anthologies and print and online magazines.