A Book in a Tree Is a Love Poem and Also Not a Love Poem
April 28, 2021
This essay is part of a series in which Poetry Northwest partners with Seattle Arts & Lectures to present reflections on SAL’s visiting poets. On Friday, April 30, Natalie Diaz will read and discuss her work at 7:30 pm (PDT)—tickets are still available!
By Laura Da’, WITS Writer-in-Residence
Featuring work by Helena Goos, Lucia Santos, Nathalie Marver-Kwon, Hazel Windstorm, Victor Xia, and Maeve Kenney.
This year I have been co-mentoring a wonderful group of young writers through Seattle Arts & Lectures and the Youth Poet Laureate program. Recently, we have been reading poems from Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem and passing back and forth connections, ideas, and visions of possibility. In between our meetings, the routes I walk take me through a natural watershed of twisting hills and streams that slush into large river systems, lakes, and the Salish Sea. In the poem “The First River is the Body,” Diaz writes: “I mean river as a verb. A happening. It is moving within me right now.” As a collective action, I think of the responses my student have created to Diaz’s work as a watershed of shared thinking.
Talking about how to share these impressions and responses to Postcolonial Love Poem, one of the writers in our cohort suggested we should find a tree and pass a copy of the book back and forth with all our annotations and inspired poems tucked into the pages, so I’ve had my eyes to the madrona trees. The turning of the season pushes them into a lush olive luminosity. One day, all of a sudden, the path strewn with crisp ribbons of orange is sunlit, and the trees gleam with a clean olive underskin. Madronas are indigenous to the Pacific coast from British Columbia to California. Each region calls them by a different name: cross the state line to the south into Oregon, and they are madrones. Head north into Canada, and they are arbutus. Listen deeply to the land and they are the many names of the Indigenous languages of the Salish Sea. Come fall, the madronas will drop all their skin in a brittle peeling away, come spring, they will come back again.
In the Postcolonial Love Poem, Diaz writes “The rain will eventually come, or not. // Until then, we touch our bodies like wounds— // The war never ended and somehow begins again.” Inside the forever war, the drought and deluge, I’ve been looking for a tree to store a book in, a place to store my gratitude for my cohort of fellow writers of all ages, and for this book.