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Illustrated Guide to Familiar American Trees

We’ve pulled out some poetry from the vault today. “Illustrated Guide to Familiar American Trees” by Charlie Smith comes from issue 30. We hope you enjoy it.

Illustrated Guide to
Familiar American Trees

I don’t get it about the natural world.
Like, greenery,
without people in it, is supposed to do what?

City sunlight, I say, how can you beat it—
the walk to the pool after work, shine
caught in the shopkeeper’s visor, bursts.

I see myself moving around New York,
snapping my fingers, eating fries.

My ex-wife’s out in California.

I wish she was over on Bank Street,
up on the second floor,
and I was on the way there
to call to her from the sidewalk.

There’s a cypress on that block, two honey
locusts and an oak. I love those trees
like my own brothers.

Charlie Smith earned a BA from Duke University and an MFA from the University of Iowa. He has written five New York Times Notable Books and has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. He has also won the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine. Three Delays: A Novel was published by Harper Perennial in 2010.

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Posted in From The Vault, Poetry

Comments: 1

(1) Comment

  1. Brian says:

    I wonder what others took away from this poem.
    I feel perhaps Mr. Smith is suggesting a satirical commentary here. From the first stanza the narrator exudes such an obvious ignorance and solipsism regarding the very worth of nature. Perhaps Mr. Smith is characterizing the isolation of the city dweller, their short-sightedness, and self-centered ways (“I see myself moving around NY / snapping my fingers…”). Then the narrator feigns an intimate attachment (or camaraderie) to the trees on the block where he’s spent time craning up at a particular building. He goes so far as to profess a love for them, but it is clear it is an affection not for their inherent worth, but because they remind him of this particular street and his time with his ex-wife. Could he even be jealous of the “two honey locusts and an oak”, stationed outside his ex-wife’s former abode?

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