Today’s seasonal poem by Stuart Kestenbaum of Deer Isle grew out of tapping maple trees and boiling sap on his stovetop. “What stayed with me,” he says, “is how long it took to get to syrup, and how sweet the syrup could be.”

 Essence

By Stuart Kestenbaum

We hand-crank the drill through the maple’s bark,

pound the metal tap into light inner layers

 

where the sap begins to flow, this life blood

that will make the leaves unfurl

 

in another two months, delicately

lined like the hands of a newborn.

 

But now we step over last year’s leaves

and the year’s before that

 

in patchy snow to gather what

we have taken from the tree, the gallons of sap

 

we boil down on our stove top,

moisture running off the kitchen windows

 

as we get down to its essence, over three gallons

to make a cup of syrup, so sweet

 

a transformation, I can’t believe I could

have been a part of it. A world that doesn’t

 

end in vinegar, ashes and regret,

but in a sweetness that rises every day

 

between earth and sky, traveling from the hole

in the side of the tree to our joyous mouths.

 

Take Heart: A Conversation in Poetry is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2003 by Stuart Kestenbaum. Reprinted from “House of Thanksgiving,” Deerbrook Editions, 2003, by permission of Stuart Kestenbaum. Questions about submitting to Take Heart may be directed to David Turner, special assistant to the Maine Poet Laureate, at [email protected] or 228-8263.