“If You Were to Ask Me the State of My Country, I Would Say” by Chaun Ballard

Chaun Ballard


a cento

In the clear light that confuses everything,
a tree grows as one might have grown
in the Garden of Eden.
It started its wander like any tree in the world would:
small, significant, having a purpose, a desire
to bud leaves. The neighbors call it an elm—
a Siberian elm because some could see into Russia.
Perhaps in strain or collusion,
but this is not the point.
This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary:
the forest of buoyancy that suffered Alexander
who from his true course turned
the hands of this telling to a tree-pull on a hill
overlooking the icy river, and now the greenhouse is dark,
gone, and here must I remain as the storm-struck oak
leaned closer to the house—I say this to be beautiful.
It is not the chambers of the heart
which hold the affairs, or the tree, but all we know of history.
It is said they planted trees by the graves.
In some narratives, the young girl throws poisoned peas out the window.
In some narratives, there is no such window.

from Rattle #66, Winter 2019


Chaun Ballard: “How else to address how I see the state of our country: its many voices, its many concerns, then through a tree poem—a cento built around the first lines of other poets. Billy Collins says it best in his poem, ‘The Trouble with Poetry:’ … mostly poetry fills me / with the urge to write more poetry, / to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame / to appear at the tip of my pencil. // And along with that, the longing to steal, / to break into the poems of others / with a flashlight and a ski mask. // And what an unmerry band of thieves we are, / cut-purses, common shoplifters / I thought to myself // as a cold wave swirled around my feet.” (web)


Chaun Ballard was the guest on episode #25 of the Rattlecast! Click here to tune in live at 9pm ET …

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