Pine Print
By Susan Stewart   
Wednesday, 18 December 2013

a homely word:
a plosive, a long cry, a quiet stop, a silent letter
         like a storm and the end of a storm,
the kind brewing
         at the top of a pine,
                    (torn hair, bowed spirits, and,
                               later, straightened shoulders)
who’s who of the stirred and stirred up:
         musicians, revolutionaries, pines.
 
A coniferous tree with needle-shaped leaves.
Suffering or trouble; there’s a pin inside.
 
The aphoristic seamstress was putting up a hem, a shelf of pins at her pursed mouth.
“needles and pins / needles and pins / when a man marries / his trouble begins.”
A red pincushion with a twisted string, and a little pinecone tassel, at the ready.
 
That particular smell, bracing,
         exact as a sharpened point.
 
 
The Christmas tree, nude and fragrant,
         propped as pure potential in
the corner with no nostalgia for
         ornament or angels.
 
“Pine-Sol,” nauseating, earnest, imitation—
         one means of knowing the real thing is the fake you find in school.
Pent up inside on a winter day, the steaming closeness from the radiators.
At the bell, running down the hillside. You wore a pinafore.
The air had a nip: pine
         was traveling in the opposite direction.
 
Sunlight streaming through a stand of pines,
         dancing backward through the A’s and T’s.
 
Is it fern or willow that’s the opposite of pine?
 
An alphabet made of trees.
 
In the clearing vanished hunters
         left their arrowheads
         and deep cuts in the boulder wall:
                    petroglyphs, repeating triangles.
 
 
Grandmothers wearing pinnies trimmed in rickrack.
One family branch lived in a square of oak forest, the other in a circle of pines;
         the oak line: solid, reliable, comic; the piney one capable of pain and surprise.
 
W-H-I-T-E: the white pine’s five-frond sets spell its name. (Orthography of other pines I don’t yet know.)
 
The weight of snow on boughs, lethargic, then rocked by the thump of a settling crow.
 
Pinecones at the Villa Borghese: Fibonacci increments,
         heart-shaped veins, shadowing the inner
                    edges of the petals.
Like variations at the margins of a bird feather.
         Graffiti tattooing the broken
                    water clock, a handful
                               of pine nuts, pried out, for lunch.
 
Pining away like Respighi with your pencil.
 
For a coffin, you’d pick a plain
pine box suspended in a weedy sea.
 
 
No undergrowth, though, in a pine forest.
 
Unlike the noisy wash
of dry deciduous leaves,
the needles blanket the earth
 
pliant beneath a bare foot,
stealthy,
         floating,
a walk through the pines.
 
Silence in the forest comes from books.