American Linden

American Linden (Tilia americana)  Native to North America. Also known as Basswood.

Here's a longer poem (recording below) from the
Fireweed Poems:
Songs of Love and Loss
(Part II), of the same title:

American Linden

"Sopra e basso -- sempre due cose, inizia
cosi il movimento del nostro mondo."

     It was a blessing to be out in the open,
     out of her studio.

She watched the leaves of the Linden,
how they were beginning to lose
their shine and give themselves
to the duller surfaces and more serious
work of making summer wood.

May was her month, she felt—
the month which did not so much end
as dovetail with a long whispering
diminuendo far into the breadth of June.

That is how she felt:
Full crown of heart-shaped leaves,
alternating gracefully on the twigs as
a counterpoint of voices in a choir.

Moving, all leaves together, this was
texture, pure space. Time,
she knew, could be such a bore,
having to sit patiently at the keyboard,
or worse, listening to others play,
until she had all five or six voices flowing
in her hands. But the Linden, with its
bands of shimmering leaves,
was simply there, all at once. She
could so easily move from whole
to single trembling leaf and back again.

"Was this a woman's space?" she asked herself.
Men, she knew, were want to compare leaves
on a tree to pages in a book, pages
upon which something must be composed.

But to hear the sound the Linden makes in May
was for her to feel the same afternoon wind
move across her smooth skin, tapping toes barefoot
in cool grass, listening to the slow rhythmic
waves of sound.

She looked down into the score
she had brought with her. She found her
fingers rehearsing the movements, going
over them, again and again.

"That's it!" she thought, erasing a
figure that had never felt quite right.
From her Grandmother, she had learned
to speak to her thumbs like a pair of stout
twins, anchoring the rest of a large family,
but just as easily stumbling a bit
behind the others.

"There!" she said aloud, her right hand
running off the page like a robin,
then stopping just as abruptly.

Would she dare? she thought anxiously.
"Tonight?" Suddenly she was full of fear.

Tonight was going to be her night, her concert. Hers.
She repeated the fingering, right hand, then
left, again and again, then singing
the melody as she moved. "Yes, yes!" she conducted
herself, letting the score fall to the ground.

Like someone suddenly aware of time as
measured by the clock, she stopped, looked up
and leapt to her feet, running under the Linden
tree like a frightened little girl hiding herself
from intruders. "Was that why he never left the studio
towards the end? No more concerts. Just recordings.
Was it going to rain?"

She took hold of a leaf as the wind shook
the tree, never before seeing the pale green
of the fingerlike bracts just below the unopened
blossoms. She could sense a much older
woman than herself collecting
them for fall teas. She opened
her eyes.

"Have to go now. Practice. Prepare."
Even as a small child, this had been
all she had ever known.

Tonight was going to be her night. Hers. Running
back to the house, almost forgetting her other
papers, all the letters that needed attending to,
she could hear the music now within her as if
completely surrounded by it and yet somehow above it,
as if she were listening from both in- and outside
the sound, hearing it as a clear crystal taken in on all
its sides in but a single breath.

"Would he be there tonight?" she asked
herself. "Would he...?"

She had sometimes noticed how, in a full hall
with the lights dimmed, she would unexpectedly look up
from the keyboard and see—her lips
began to move with the sound of his slight
accent—a face that seemed to emit
a presence entirely its own.

"Would he, be...?"

She looked back and saw that the leaves
of the tree were quiet now. Faces in a crowd, so
close, so intimate, yet anonymous and so far away.
She pressed the score to herself as never before,
composed herself carefully, and was ready
for whatever the night would bring.

(Photograph made during the first week of July, 2001.)

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Photograph © 2001 Cliff Crego