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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, November 16, 2017
About this Poem 
“Once I dragged a lectern out to a field and wrote there, facing the trees, and felt at a wonderful loss for words. What could I say to trees that might matter? Nothing but praise. Trees pay no attention to fences. And walking along West 97th Street I marvel at how the honey locust grows right beautifully through the chainlink and into the schoolyard here. (If you’re in love with trees, take a look at Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees.) Lines 14 to 16 borrow definitions from various dictionaries etymological and otherwise.”
—Catherine Barnett
 

Epistemology

Mostly I’d like to feel a little less, know a little more.
Knots are on the top of my list of what I want to know.
Who was it who taught me to burn the end of the cord 
to keep it from fraying?
Not the man who called my life a debacle, 
a word whose sound I love.
In a debacle things are unleashed.
Roots of words are like knots I think when I read the dictionary.
I read other books, sure. Recently I learned how trees communicate, 
the way they send sugar through their roots to the trees that are ailing. 
They don’t use words, but they can be said to love. 
They might lean in one direction to leave a little extra light for another tree.
And I admire the way they grow right through fences, nothing
stops them, it’s called inosculation: to unite by openings, to connect 
or join so as to become or make continuous, from osculare
to provide with a mouth, from osculum, little mouth.
Sometimes when I’m alone I go outside with my big little mouth
and speak to the trees as if I were a birch among birches.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Catherine Barnett. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 16, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Catherine Barnett. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 16, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Catherine Barnett

Catherine Barnett

Catherine Barnett was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She studied at Princeton University and at the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers.

Barnett is the author of Human Hours (Graywolf Press, 2018); The Game of Boxes (Graywolf Press, 2012), which was the recipient of the 2012 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets; and Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced (Alice James Books, 2004).

by this poet

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My son took a picture of me
jumping the cemetery wall. Do it again,
he said, as if I'd got out too fast.
Pretend you're really climbing.

In the retake my lazy eye is half shut,
and the other is smiling or crying.
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What do you need? the Quiet Man asked
when I knocked again at his door.

What do you want?
He was closing up.

I don’t know, I said.
Woolf, Anbesol, Baldwin, Keats,

I’ll take anything.
I knew sometimes he slept right there in his shop,

with blankets on the bottom shelf,

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Enchantée, says the key in my hand.
When I try to turn it, it turns to sand.

Time is an upgrade, says the front desk.
Reserved for our most valued guests.

Time is an anemone, says the new hire.
Enemy. Amenity. Profanity. Dire.

Whatever you’ve forgotten,
they provide.