For the Readers and the Writers Who Shared Their Words,
It was with great pleasure that I read and reflected on the wide variety of submissions in response to Jo Zider’s art. Thank you to the writers who shared their creativity with me. I honour each and every one of their creations. But as guest editor, my challenge was to choose from among them.
I have selected fourteen different perspectives, different ways of experiencing Nature’s Way.
As you read them, I hope you will come away with an enlarged vision of this enigmatic piece of art. Jo has also been deeply moved by the depth of your words.
of a screeching owl
a stark sky
bathed in shadows
When Kashiana Singh is not writing, she lives to embody her TEDx talk theme of Work as Worship into her every day. She currently serves as Managing Editor for Poets Reading the News. Her chapbook Crushed Anthills by Yavanika Press is a journey through 10 cities. Her newest full-length collection, Woman by the Door has just been released in February 2022 with Apprentice House Press.
As a child I dropped a bead of brown paint
on a clean sheet of paper
and coaxed it skyward
with air blown through a straw.
Soon it was a sapling
with a few spreading branches
that caught light
from a bold yellow ball.
Today's tree bears the marks of long life.
Weathered skin, body bent, thickened joints.
The sky is silvered, faceted,
like the aura before a migraine,
something I have come to know.
But the sun, that optimist, remains,
even if I shade my eyes
to paint branches that reach,
and reach some more,
each stretching beyond the page
and beckoning me to hope.
Catherine Reef's poetry has appeared in several journals, including The Ekphrastic Review. She is a poet and an award-winning biographer, whose most recent book is Sarah Bernhardt: The Divine and Dazzling Life of the World's First Superstar (Clarion, 2020). Catherine Reef lives and writes in Rochester, New York.
Trees of Life
My aunt is a wisp of limb as strong as Ironwood, only fifty-seven
rings from her origin, yet finds the boughs of her lungs
encompassed by a tumor too large to remove. Our great branches
of medicine cannot save us from the inherent cycle, nature’s way
of reminding us that all creation is a tree within a tree, reaching
for light, rooted to each other and this earth. Even the faithful grow
afraid as an ailing tree is stripped of leaves. We raise our prayers,
fearful of the space between distress and relief. Maybe I speak
only for myself, a fear of loss. What a selfish thing, to think
of my own need for the comfort my mother gives, or of my sorrow
for my cousins, their core shaken, scared they could lose
their mother. She has not lost her foliage or beautiful resilience,
but her breath is laboured. Our whole family is a forest trembling
with her, unsure of what to say except we love her, and we’re here
offering our limbs for support, lifting her hope to the sky.
Heather Brown Barrett
Heather Brown Barrett is a poet in southeastern Virginia. She mothers her young son and contemplates life, the universe, and everything with her writer husband, Bradley Barrett. Her poetry has appeared in The Ekphrastic Review, Yellow Arrow Journal, OyeDrum Magazine, AvantAppal(achia), and elsewhere. She has work forthcoming in Black Bough Poetry. Find her on Instagram @heatherbrownbarrett
Good and Evil
Symbolic are the tree and vine
in canvas sun that seems to shine
to dramatize persistence — force
that winter slows to patient course
of sculptures stoic, braving cold,
as if with hope by faith foretold
of suns in far more supple days
caressing their entangled maze
until the leafing sprigs appear
in saint and serpent making clear
the struggle to survive resumes
as battle fought from roots to blooms
while unaware that they entwine
as good and evil they define.
Old man. Ekphrastic fan.
Prefers to craft with sole intent...
of verse becoming complement...
...and by such homage being lent...
ideally also compliment.
Ekphrastic joy comes not from praise
for words but from returning gaze
far more aware of fortune art
becomes to eyes that fathom heart.
because the world is always
both more and less
than perception permits
All these invisible bridges—so many of them—but only the subliminal recognizes their presence and sees how far it is from earth to sky.
because humanity straddles the line
between thinking and feeling
Crossing is not realized by strength but by letting go, becoming the echo that is given away and then returns.
because creation holds its shadow
close, not leading or following
but enveloping itself in a cocoon
like an endless refrain
The song listens, its trajectory wandering through and beyond the tangible, pulling all that is silent into its oracular melody.
because we are
both more and less
than we could be
On the other hand—for there is always one waiting in the wings—is the edge the destination or a leap of faith?
because memory and
together and become confused
Are we moving toward the end of something, or are we seeds waiting to be tossed into the void?
because so much
that we contain
surprises and mystifies
in equal measure
What if, is, possibility?—a crazy hope, a kept promise, an Enso painted white on black that turns into an opening into the cosmos--
because each voice embodies
both chaos and clarity
—a magic portal, a reconciliation of life with itself.
because when the end
is reached there is always
more after all
Kerfe Roig lives and works in NYC, where the many trees keep her company as they nourish all of the city's residents—animal, vegetable and mineral—and reflect the changing seasons of their lives.
excerpt from a letter to van Gogh in 1889
Madame Tissot, his neighbour, writes--
The tree that stands beyond my garden wall
now bears your name, Vincent --
as I have seen it act
like the trees in your paintings -- wild
with a need to claw the wind
and pull from the yellow dusk
a melancholy bile
that saints and pilgrims have known
through the centuries, a restlessness
that unsettles the soul
and makes the landscape react
in a sign language of its own.
A language, you master so well
in the storm of your brushstrokes — like the dark
spelling of crows
across a wheat field spasmodic
in shades of gold;
or what has been viewed here
in the hills of Provence, the silhouette of trees
begging in their twisted forms
to be seen as something sacred, birth mothers
of a vineyard or wood.
Wendy Howe is an English teacher and free lance writer who lives in Southern California. Her poetry reflects her interest in myth, diverse landscapes, and ancient cultures. Over the years, she has been published in an assortment of journals both on-line and in print. Among them: The Copperfield Review, Silver Blade Magazine,, The Poetry Salzburg Review, Eye To The Telescope, The Tower Journal and The Orchards Journal. Her most recent work will be forthcoming in Carmina Magazine and Sun Dial Magazine later this year.
The sky is the colour of the lake
veiled behind the echo of chrysanthemum
and ripples of distance.
The yellow highway inching
its way to meet the grey line of the horizon
is a work-in-progress.
Just like the roofless, unpainted houses
at the edge of the village.
Below the cement bridge, river Kapila,
hums a tune
that feels like the leathery back of a memory.
A bare tree stands in meditation,
waiting for spring
to clothe her limbs, green.
Preeth Ganapathy is a software engineer turned civil servant from Bengaluru, India. Her works have been published in several magazines such as The Ekphrastic Review, Soul-Lit, The Sunlight Press, Atlas+Alice, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Mothers Always Write, Tiger Moth Review and elsewhere. Her microchap, A Single Moment, has been published by Origami Poems Project. She is also the winner of Wilda Morris's July 2020 Poetry Challenge.
Down to the Wire
Lying on your side amongst crumpled hotel sheets
your left hip curves like the timber skeleton
of a rowboat blanched to almond by the sun.
I can hear the chatter of birds outside the window
in a leafless liquid amber, and look out to watch them
flap their wings as if to frighten away grey storm clouds
looming over the twisted trunk and turning the sun
to a pale stain on the sky. Goosebumps
bring your skin alive and you pull the doona up
to interrupt my view. My heartbeat slows as the rain falls.
We are somewhere unfamiliar pretending
we’re still ok.
Linda is a poet living in Lake Tabourie, NSW Australia. She’s beginning her arts degree in creative writing. In the last 12 months she has been enjoying the thrill of being published and having her work read by people from around the world.
Hello, old friend.
Has it really been sixty years
since we met?
I’m sorry to see her looking old
and gnarly, but it’s hard to look
her best shivering in the winter wind
without her elegant emerald coat.
As a child, I thought she was old,
like Mama. But trees just grow
more quickly than little girls,
especially this girl – small at every age.
We were almost like sisters, the way
we understood each other without words.
She looks glad to see me again,
seems to bend low for a closer look,
much like how she used to reach out
a sturdy limb to help me up, then cradled
me in her upper branches.
How I welcomed a cool breeze
in Virginia summers, loved tucking
myself into my private hideaway
to think about the world. My coming
of age was a rude shock, when Mama
sent my brother out to saw off
the low limbs.
Today no one seems to be home
in what was once my home,
so I took a chance on trespassing
to see her. I don’t get back often.
Dear friend, thank you
for giving me a giant’s view
of the world. Because of you,
I’ve always tried to look
at everything from different angles.
Alarie Tennille graduated from the first coed class at the University of Virginia, where she earned her B.A. in English, Phi Beta Kappa key, and black belt in Feminism. Retired now, Alarie serves on the Emeritus Board and Programming Committee of the Writers Place in Kansas City, Missouri. Her latest book, Three A.M. at the Museum, was named a Director’s Pick at the Nelson-Atkins Museum’s gift shop. Please visit her at alariepoet.com.
Ash Hawthorn spent his childhood climbing trees in the village meadow and watching the world below. Settled comfortably on a branch, he daydreamed or read books, and made friends with countless birds and squirrels who approached him without fear. At night, he mounted the towering oak tree in the garden and perused the sky, naming the constellations and the planets he learned at school.
For higher education, Ash debated between studying astronomy or botany. In the end he opted for plant biology because of his passion for trees. The celestial objects were far away, yet he could touch and feel the woods, identify their leaves and fruits.
Ash became a spiritual man as well as a plant biologist. He travelled the world to acquaint himself with exotic plants in various terrains. Each morning, after his yoga meditation, he hugged a tree and continued a ritual he'd begun so long ago. At home, he wrapped his arms around the magnificent acacia in the garden. When abroad, he found a local tree to exercise his routine. Trees talked to him, he felt their vibes and communication lines.
On the way back from The Aokigahara Forest in Japan, which some called the suicide or talking forest, he was thrilled to have successfully made it through the challenging trail without a guide or using markings. The trees had guided him as his feet pounded the lava rocks and edged around perilous pit holes.
Ash clicked on the notification from the NASA website he subscribed to and read:
A small, recently discovered asteroid -- or perhaps a comet -- appears to have originated from outside the solar system, maybe from a distant part of our galaxy. If so, it would be the first "interstellar object" to be observed and confirmed by astronomers.
‘How exciting,’ Ash thought, interstellar, as in science-fiction movies and books. He wished he could see it, and wondered if it would have an impact on earth, perhaps strike it. Probably not, as most space stations were equipped with devices to repel such a happening. Yet, in the event they resorted to such action, what effect would this create on the entire universe? These thoughts occupied his mind as he continued his tours.
Trekking in the Valdivian rain forest between Chile and Argentina, Ash felt thirsty and hot. He took off his safari jacket and hung it on the branch of a towering Araucaria araucana, better known as the Monkey puzzle tree. Leaning against its trunk, he drank water from the thermos and rested. The air was still, though on its languid current he detected a hint of expectancy. Under the cerulean sky, the tree whispered. He wrapped his arms around it and listened. “Interstellar,” it said. Ash smiled and repeated, “Interstellar.”
He smelled burning, and raising his head, spotted a massive fireball approaching. That was the last thing he saw before his interstellar journey transported him to another dimension.
Sebnam E. Sanders
Sebnem E. Sanders lives on the Southern Aegean coast of Turkey and writes short and longer works of fiction. Her stories have appeared in various online literary magazines, and two anthologies. Her collection of short and flash fiction stories, Ripples on the Pond , was published in December 2017. More information can be found at her website where she shares some of her work: https://sebnemsanders.wordpress.com/Ripples on the Pond
The Mystery of What We Are Made Of
is a finger crooked between exclamation
and inquiry, a tree “whose madly peeling
bark is the color of a roan, perhaps, or
an Irish setter.” A gnarled survivalist,
the tree maintains its singular skywardness
while cleaving to a straight-from-the-roots viewpoint
not unlike the last two years of pandemic.
It’s like it knew, if we didn’t lose all our leaves,
we’d see another rain. Like a sycamore
on a nature trail, towering as weathered
or maybe more so than this darker cousin--
pale bark a library of scrolls, sun and smog
leaving it nearly bare-branched. I could hear it
creaking just from the look of it, devoted
as it apparently was to stay in place
with dog-like devotion. Something in the wood
to survive despite itself, with the afternoon
glare scorching down on it, all along its bark,
until the question or exclamation into
which its trunk contorted turned ring after ring--
an accumulation which became its meaning
and echoes through my roots, into heartwood each
look into the sun over morning coffee--
void scratching as if I were air, not limbs or twigs,
the trunk of me somehow staying in the soil.
*Title taken from the poem “Caravaggio and His Followers,” in the collection Your Name Here. The quote in the opening stanza is taken from the same poem.
Jonathan Yungkans finds time to write while working as an in-home health-care provider, aided by copious amounts of coffee and the thought that somehow, sometime, the pandemic's venality will fade. His work has appeared in MacQueen's Quinterly, Panoply, Synkroniciti and other publications. His second poetry chapbook, Beneath a Glazed Shimmer, was published by Tebot Bach in 2021.
When I Loved You in the Afterlife
"There's a crack in the glass so fine you can't see it,
and in the blue eye of the candle flame's needle
there's a dark fleck, a speck of imperfection
that could contain, like a microchip, an epic
treatise on beauty..."
William Matthews, Miniscule Things
Ink-black the tree branches crack the stained glass sky --
how many souls I've loved will meet here their letter-paned
journeys hidden from me their wind-whispered spirits
signs of life? How brave the ghostly sun to light their message
when the tree is empty, leafless? It seems that nature's drawn
this season with a bird's eye -- what's behind them as they fly --
hope for an unzoned and intimate encounter the future mapped
by memory's lost horizon... In a place where 2 worlds meet
on canvas, stripped of life the promise of color is a garden
waiting for foliage; dead trees are reflected in the water
of a swamp -- Atchafalaya -- what the Choctaw call Long River.
Near a bridge I guess we'll always have to cross -- where a sign
says its name is Old and Lost -- there's fire in the eyes of an alligator,
and my grandfather puts Tabasco on everything he eats. His mother
bakes a cake and hums the fais do-do while I catch crawfish
(I call them crawdads) and make them pets -- and who would guess
what I find on the artist's bare tree my hand reaching out
from its line-like branches -- the shape of river's way roads
when the sky is blue and a love song is life that I shared with you.
Laurie Newendorp lives and writes in Houston. If asked, what could she say of this poem? She has seen a thin-trunked tree with leaves, alive and growing, seemingly suspended above a Scottish bog; so she asks, why do the trees seem to be dead in a swamp? Her grandfather, born in New Orleans, never ate without a thin-necked bottle of Tabasco, hot sauce made from the red peppers grown off the coast of Louisiana on Avery Island. Ekphrasis has allowed her to explore a wide range of topics, sometimes with family characters popping up, and always with love of her nuclear family, grandsons, children, and their father.
Consult the Elders of Wine and Elixirs
Consult the elders of wine and elixirs
From berries and flowers
At the smoky hours
Between darkness and dawn.
A tree, first ladder to apples and sky,
In heritage orchard of endless fruition.
With secrets harbored in a time-trunk of burls,
Hope chest for the world.
Holder of nets from abandoned arachnids,
Woven like cat’s-cradled fingers
And nests knit of twigs nib-needled
Antlers erected by artisan architect
Frame light, gold as dust spray
And cross-hatched roots etch the earth,
Scratch scriptures of wisdom from ages past.
With limbs crossed—fingers crossed--
Like star-crossed lovers embrace on their way
To the dead of winter.
Cynthia Dorfman has practiced ekphrastic writing as a frequent participant in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery writing program. She has been a writer, editor, publications director and communications manager in the private and public sectors. Her creative work has appeared on line and in print with the most recent, a story in The Library Love Letter. In the summers she lives in an old shoe factory in Wisconsin, USA.
The Tree Nurtures Life with My Unvaccinated Lover
The tree is full of undisturbed mystery
against an egg-fed sky. The tree is full,
nature’s way does not lick as much as blanket,
olive knots swath around the trunk.
It’s September. Life is seeping from seed
and skin. Branches quiver, fingers ready to touch
a bird’s breath. Of chiseled blueness,
our baby will taste the wind zinging
like a Copper Canyon Train. Jump on,
ride through Shangri-La-like valleys
of cool alpines, and you see a conductor
reading Don Quixote, now a horse like Rocinante,
now wake off an epic dream swept as cloudless,
and now smell mountain marigold outside
the lowered windows, dusk smells of citrus,
and now a horizon cracks open, poached.
John Milkereit lives in Houston, Texas with trees that don’t look like this one. He works as a mechanical engineer and has completed a M.F.A. in Creative Writing at the Rainier Writing Workshop. His work has appeared in various literary journals including Naugatuck River Review, Panoply, San Pedro River Review, and The Ekphrastic Review. His next full-length collection of poems, A Place Comfortable with Fire, is forthcoming from Lamar University Literary Press.