Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Muse of Trees

Path with Trees (Watercolor by Emma Hoffman)

Trees Are Our Rock and Our Roots

I come from a long line of tree loving women. When my grandmother, Emma Hoffman, a gifted painter in the impressionistic tradition, lost three children, a home and a country, she painted trees to keep her sanity

I have been thinking and writing about my grandmother for a talk I am soon to give in Cleveland, Self-Portrait with Ghost: The Art of Lament and Redemption. I have written a series of poems in response to her paintings, telling the story of my family’s exodus from Hitler’s Europe to the New World. They lived in Cuba for 18 months before they were allowed to enter the United States. This was in 1940, before I was born. In this painting of a Great Mother Tree I can see my grandmother beginning to get her bearings, beginning to grow roots and branches, beginning to find her way.

Cuba 1940 (Oil by Emma Hoffman)

This is the poem that came to me in response:


I’m here
Footstep and breath
Real as the trees
Real as the archway they make
From shadow to glow
Real as my painting in oil
For your eyes

Trees are my rock and my roots
Trees are my silent angels
Will the ghosts ever find me?
Will they build their nests in these branches
As they did in Europe?
We are refugees from that room
With its single bare light bulb
Will our visas ever be granted?
Will our dead know where we’ve gone?
I’m here
Heartbeat and belly
Real as the woman I paint
Passing through shade into glow
Hungry for sun and the sea
And for you yet to be

I’m here
Belly and breath
Trees are my rock and my temple
Trees are my vigilant angels
And you     soon to be

Will you make your nest here?
                (First published in Levure Litteraire)

Trees Are Our Silent Angels

It used to be when I called up my mother for our Sunday talks that we’d tell each other family stories or stories from our busy creative lives. She was a fine violinist and violist. She played chamber and symphonic music, taught violin, and worked therapeutically with young children and their parents. Now, in her nineties, she is mostly confused, says she doesn’t know who or where she is. I think she doesn’t know why she is. But she always knows about the trees. She watches them. They tell her the seasons, orient her in the life cycle and she reports back to me about their winter nakedness, their eloquent shapes and windy dances, their spring buds and gorgeous flowering, their summer green abundance, their fall explosion into many colors and then shedding all their finery. She finds them beautiful in all their states. They calm her. They watch over her. They are as they are, and so is she. My mother would never say they are angels. But I do.

A Life in Trees

In my just published collection, The Faust WomanPoems, I have a poem called “A Life in Trees.” And indeed, I can tell my life story in trees. There was the Great Mother Oak I sat in when I was eight, which taught me the “long slow language of the afternoon,” showed me the “sun tangled in the green,” made a poet of me. (This is from my poem “in the junction” published in red clay is talking.) There was the Sexy Seductive Willow from my childhood, what She “kindled in me.” There was the “long legged” Palm, “enchanting the edge of tomorrow” and the “Lady Tree” whom I drew as a girl before I knew the word Goddess. (These quotes are from “A Life in Trees.”) There was the Umbrella Elm under whose “canopy leaves” Dan and I were married almost thirty-four years ago. There was the Tree of Life which “sent its roots deep into me” filled me with the wild wisdom of the Kaballah and returned me to Judaism. (Quotes from my poem “Earth Spirit” in The Faust Woman Poems.)

Under the Oak: An Invitation

There is another Great Mother Oak in my life these days. She lives in the lavender fields at Harms Farm, where my friends Patricia Damery and Donald Harms grow lavender, grapes and tend goats. I am privileged to be in a group of women writers, dedicated to the work of raising consciousness about the threats to creatures, trees and to the earth. We will read under that enchanting oak tree. I hope you’ll join us.

Under the Oak: Reading for the Earth

How do we reconnect with the earth and with each other in these perilous times? How do we create a vessel, individually and collectively, for rebirth in a world we hold sacred?

We, three poets and a novelist, have devoted our work to these questions, adding our voices to the growing chorus. We are passionate advocates for the Deep Feminine and a return to the ancient and timeless values which She embodies.

Please join us Under The Oak at Harms Vineyards and Lavender Fields for an afternoon of poetry, prose, and refreshments.

When: 4:30 pm, Saturday, June 22, 2013. (The Harms Vineyards and Lavender Fields Open House will be from 10-4 pm. Click on link for more details.)

Where: 3185 Dry Creek Road, Napa, CA 94558. Please park in the parking lot. There is a short walk into the vineyards. Wear a hat and dress appropriately.

Who is reading: Poets Frances Hatfield, Naomi Lowinsky, and Leah Shelleda, and novelist Patricia Damery.