This week’s poem, Joyce Ray’s “The Language of Trees,” invites us to consider the winter season of our trees’ twigs and limbs. I love this poem’s comparison of bare trees to the shapes of Kanji, a Japanese writing system using inked Chinese characters, and also the contrast Ray draws against Joyce Kilmer’s famous summertime trees (“I think that I shall never see / a poem as lovely as a tree”). The stripped boughs of Ray’s poem remind us to relish cold and core.

Ray’s writing has appeared in literary journals, including Entelechy International: A Journal of Contemporary Ideas and the Aurorean, and she is the author of the award-winning YA novel “Feathers and Trumpets, A Story of Hildegard of Bingen.” Born in Portland and raised in Benton, she now lives in New Hampshire and summers here in Oakland.

The Language of Trees

By Joyce Ray

Twigs, sap stilled by cold,
etch brush-stroked Kanji
over gray skies and hold
a promise of spring through winter’s story.

Brush-stroked Kanji etch
tree poems in stick season.
Limbs promise spring and stretch
toward orbs of light to illume and open

the tree poems of stick season
because now is the time to ponder and listen
as light orbs illume and open
Kilmer’s analogy of trees to poems.

Let poets listen. Let poets ponder.
Do trees beckon to hear poems,
stripped of Kilmer’s summer wear,
in winter’s language, plain-spoken?

Perhaps they beckon to hear our prayer
and like twigs, sap stilled by cold,
we’ll pray in the stripped language of winter
against gray skies we must hold.


Megan Grumbling is a poet and writer who lives in Portland. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. “The Language of Trees” copyright 2023 by Joyce Ray, appears by permission of the author.

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