Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Feature: Michael Henson Day 3

Sycamore on the Ohio

Gaunt and precarious,
a sycamore leans out
over the winter Ohio.
In the flood season,
when the waters tear at the banks,
the black reptilian bodies of oak, cottonwood, catalpa
float downstream, half-submerged.
But this sycamore holds fast, for now,
its place in the earth.
The roots on the eroded river side reach out,
dig their mottled heels in the sand,
and brace themselves
among the beds of the mussels
and the gravelly nests where catfish spawn.
Stripped bare by the floods,
these roots are like the granite buttresses of cathedrals
or, like great vegetal pythons,
or, like the knees of gods at rest.
Behind them, the bank side roots, curtained in silt,
set out to explore the interstitial corridors of the subsoil.
They cast their nets wide in the darkness.
They pass along the stations of the mole
and follow the paths of the worm and the nematode.
They sift with their white fingers
through the mineral amalgam
of sand, leafmeal, shell, fish scale,
rusted hook, and chips of mica.
They penetrate the caskets of clay
and tell no secrets.
They press into the crevices of the layered limestone
and trace the flutes of the scalloped fossil.
They pore over shards of the Adena,
splinters of brick,
and fragments of broken glass polished like discarded jewels.
They pry among the bones of the hanged man
and touch,
as if it were a relic,
the pierced heart of someone’s drowned daughter,

© Michael Henson

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Q: How do you know when a poem is complete and needs no more revisions or do your poems continually evolve and change?

A: One test is when I can finally read a poem aloud without flinching. I once heard a poet talk about trying to get his work to the point where it would sing. That’s the moment I’m looking for, when the words stop speaking and begin to sing.

Q: When did you first have an interest in poetry?

A: I think it started with song. My father and my grandfather were both singers and I can’t imagine life without singing. I’ve always written the occasional poem, but as a writer, I thought of myself first as a journalist in my early twenties, then later, as a fiction writer, and then, finally, after my friend Buddy Gray was murdered, as a poet. It was kind of late in the day, but I think that was the moment I began to see myself primarily as a poet because the only way I could get words to come out that would express what I was feeling was through the words of a poem. But no matter what I’m writing, essay, story, or poem, I want it to have the bones of song.

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American Sycamore - Wikimedia


  1. I love what he says about song in his writing.

  2. I particularly like this poem.. the description of the trees and how they grip the soil captivated me...lovely . I'm so glad he featured here for this week. Sorry it took me a while to post my comments though.