THE SPEAKING TREES
(at Gatwick Airport, 02 May 2005)
On the May bank holiday of 2005, my wife, my son and myself were traveling home to Limerick from a friend's house in North London. I suggested that the journey to Stansted Airport would be much easier in a taxi, rather than lug our baggage, as we usually did, on the bus to Islington, and then the tube to Tottenham Hale, and finally the express train to Stansted.
Me and my big mouth! – We met a tailback on the motorway which delayed us an hour, had a near accident with a motorbike because the cab driver was trying to help us make up time, and missed our plane.
I lost my passport: I left it on a counter as we discussed our dilemma with an impervious Ryanair functionary, and when I went to pick it up again, it had mysteriously disappeared. We had to book a new flight from Gatwick and cross London with its bank holiday crowds. By now, tempers were flaring, recriminations were flying (Why didn't we do what we have always done?), and we boarded a train for Gatwick in stony silence. Luckily, my driving license was still accepted as ID at that time.
As I was boarding the plane, I caught a sudden glimpse of a bunch of trees on the edge of the airport. They seemed to be waving at me.
This experience became the genesis of 'The Speaking Trees', a poem I worked over for years afterwards, leaving it and coming back to it again, until I finally published it in my collection, Life Monitor, in October 2009.
I read it in St George's Church, Kemptown, Brighton, last Friday night to a packed audience which were attending a performance of Jizz – poems from his eponymous new collection by John Davies – assisted in his bringing the work to thespian vibrancy by musician Helen Lundt and dancers Harriet Morris and Rosa Firbank. I was one of the guest performers in the second half of the show, along with my wife traditional Irish musician Margaret Farrelly, poet and publisher Kate Gale, and rock musician Pete Howells.
Much of the audience surprised me by being highly amused at the poem, in which the trees on the edge of the airport speak to me of the need to keep calm, take it easy, chill out, meditate transcendentally, get a life. And I suppose that the reading, more than twelve years after the event, could be taken as a case of 'Some day we'll look back on all this and laugh.' I hadn't been particularly struck by the surreal humor of the poem until the audience helped me to see it.
THE SPEAKING TREES
(Gatwick, 2nd May 2005)
We have troubles, say the trees, but we don’t worry.
We’re a green stripe on the edge of a grey airport
after your bad day at the office. We’re a shout
in your eye, an outburst of arboreal cheer.
Ours is a different time-scale: we’re content
to hold tight here while you rush to and fro.
We haven’t too much sympathy for the edgy:
there’s something keeps us singing on the edge
of existence or an airport. We offer perspective
by our comportment, which is quite other.
Soon – any moment now – you will lift your head
and the sight of us will put proportion on
the day’s troubles, help you become more rooted
in the sense that moving creatures may be so.
We are the leafy Yes in your day of No
endured where speed spins all colours to a grey
community. But we will slow you down
when we enter your head. Your thoughts will stop darting,
though you’ll still be able to shake an arm about.
You may wave at us if you like – pretend
you are waving at friends, it could be true.
What’s about to happen, when you meet our gaze,
could very properly be called a greeting.
We are the masters of mobility
because we have learned to move while staying put,
and we feel we are ideally placed
here on the rim of vision to supply you
with a sustaining image. We’re afraid
you have become deaf to the cheering of trees,
you are out of touch with your branches and leaves.
You could also do with understanding time,
how to behave within it. This is not done well
by searching feverishly among pockets
for your ticket. You have far too many pockets.
Between departure lounge and boarding steps,
we’d love to tell you of those other steppes,
the grasslands of the great indifference.
In a few more seconds, when you notice us,
you’ll know that nothing matters much – the state
of the finances, the meltdown at the office,
tailbacks, missed departures, engineering works.
We could say the same thing more starkly in winter
but we feel that you need a touch of colour
in how the message is phrased: something green
catches your eye although it’s going nowhere,
and a quality you thought extinct still lives;
in a language fallen out of use, it speaks
of surprises and potentials in yourself,
the strength to let go and find unlikely comfort
in a stand of trees on a grey airport’s edge.
Look now - and don’t be ashamed to wave at us
as you show your boarding card to the hostess.
When you sit and shut your eyes on all the stress,
you’ll fall into our dance of rootedness.
From Life Monitor (Three Spires Press 2009)
(The entire Jizz performance can be seen on You Tube by Googling JIZZ BRIGHTON)