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About this Poem 

"A few months ago, I ran past a flowering plum tree in Berkeley, at its height of its flowering; I had been speaking with a friend about the economic doom that is happening-- no matter what they say about 'economic recovery'-- and about a struggle she was having in a relationship. I started thinking about  'between' zones in everything:  between perceptions, between sound and sense, between ease & fear, between landscape & dreamscape. I like images in poetry that can apply simultaneously to things like plants and soil and to an invisible spirit world and to linguistic constructs.  The horrors of an economy that serves so few and the friend's woes were in my mind when I wrote the first two stanzas, but there was a shift during the writing. In forms of life other than human, there is a vitality that isn't trapped in the sorrow. There may be an arable mat that is beyond our ability to harm it, or a collective unconscious. What would ease my friend's pain?  The passage of time, or simply remembering a moment of  undemanding beauty. A dress you wore, even if you no longer own that dress."
—Brenda Hillman  

The Bride Tree Can't Be Read

The bride tree puts down its roots
below the phyla. It is there
when we die & when we are born,
middle & upper branches reaching
the planet heart by the billions
during a revolution we don’t see.

Quarks & leptons are cooling
on their infant stems, spinning the spinning
brain of matter, fled to electrical dark 
water, species with names the tree
can hold in the shale shade brought
by the ambulance of art;

no one but you knows what occurred
in the dress you wore in the dream
of atonement, the displaced tree in
the dream you wore, a suffering endurable
only once, edges that sought release
from envy to a more endurable loss,

a form to be walked past, that has
outworn the shame of time,
its colors sprung through description 
above a blaze of rhizomes spreading 
in an arable mat that mostly 
isn't simple but is calm & free—

Copyright © 2013 by Brenda Hillman. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on October 28, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Copyright © 2013 by Brenda Hillman. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on October 28, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman is the author of nine collections of poetry, including Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire (Wesleyan University Press, 2013). She received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 2012 and currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet


A brenda is missing—where is she?
Summon the seeds & weeds, the desert whooshes. Phone the finch
with the crowded beak;      a little pretenda
                 is learning to read
in the afternoon light near the cactus caves. Near


An Essay

A friend asks, "What was at stake for you in the Eighties?" She's trying to figure out Bay Area Poetry. There was Reagan's New Morning for America. Garfield dolls stuck to the backs of windshields with suction cups. At the beginning of the Eighties I was married & at the end i was not. The Civil

Infinity lifted: 
a gasp of emeralds.
I thought I felt 
the tall night trees 
between them,
no exactitude, 
a wait not even 
known yet.
I held my violet up; 
no smell. 
It made a signal squeak 
inside, bats,
lisps of pride;
ah, their little things, 
their breath: lungs of a painting,
they swept me