Friday, 10 July 2020

American Life in Poetry: Naming the Trees

Ted Kooser. Photo credit: UNL Publications and Photography.

We’ve featured several other poems by Bruce Guernsey, who lives in Illinois and Maine.

But here he is visiting Gettysburg and giving us a poem for Memorial Day.

“Naming the Trees” is forthcoming in the fall issue of Sow’s Ear Poetry Review.

Naming the Trees

At the national cemetery in Gettysburg
all the trees have names,
both family and genus
on small brass plaques at the base of each
to let the visitor know
the kind of oak,
whether red, white or black,
and is this rock or silver maple
looking once like any other
burlapped ball of roots
when it was lowered to earth
those decades after the war.

Colorful names like Tulip Poplar,
Weeping Beech, Buckeye,
Sweet Gum and Ginko—
sounding like nicknames almost, these trees
from every region and state
with broad leaves or skinny,
shiny, dull, or no leaves at all
like the Eastern Hemlock,
but all, all with names every one,
no matter the size and shape
amidst the many anonymous
mute stones in their shade.


American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2020 by Bruce Guernsey, "Naming the Trees." Poem reprinted by permission of Bruce Guernsey. Introduction copyright @2020 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

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