In so few strides I circumambulate the tree, its centuries
centred in rings of heartwood, sapwood – the circularity
of years, charted seasons, bud & leaf-fall, bloom & icicle
Myth in its fibres, wood made word; the fissured bark
of Yggdrasil, world-tree, tree of Ask – the first man, tree
of manna, foe feller, child healer, known by eye & fingertip
Here, see the fine and delicate strata of its leaves, how they gift
sun’s light one to another, on and on down through themselves,
filter & diffuse it, release of form & structure, release as gesture
Chalara, the trees’ killer, gets to work in summer:
spore to leaf, hypha to stoma, appressorium splits
the epidermis, fungus threads the pith, xylem & phloem
In months leaves wither, stems drop, branches purple, suffer
lesions. Crown slides low, turns winter-brittle off season.
Disease strips whole hills of trees, makes place memory
I cannot know the tragedy of moths & lichens, their soft
dusty bodies, their searching mouths, their ecosystem
syphoned out of other, larger, ecosystems, last generations
of their species. I only know how names on maps – Askrigg,
Askham, Ashford – will slip their meaning, trip the tongue,
the way word follows world, & how forest light will alter
CHRIS POUNDWHITE is a poet concerned with ecology, climate, and the human relationship to land and the non-human. His poems have appeared in a number of journals and magazines, including the Reliquiae supplement, Longshore Drift, and Otata. He teaches ecopoetry courses & workshops through Go to the Pine, and works on poetry commissions that fall within his spheres of interest. Chris also co-curates SALT, an annual festival of place & environment based in Folkestone, Kent.
Ash Tree was commissioned by The Ash Project, which raises public consciousness of ash dieback disease, and to celebrate the nation’s ash trees before we lose them. You can read more about their work on their website.
PHOTOGRAPH by the author.
The last book by Oliver Rackham was The Ash Tree, which Little Toller published in its nature monograph series in 2015. Find out more about the book here.