Published on Academy of American Poets (

The Bride Tree Can't Be Read

The bride tree puts down its roots
below the phyla. It is there
when we die & when we are born,
middle & upper branches reaching
the planet heart by the billions
during a revolution we don’t see.

Quarks & leptons are cooling
on their infant stems, spinning the spinning
brain of matter, fled to electrical dark 
water, species with names the tree
can hold in the shale shade brought
by the ambulance of art;

no one but you knows what occurred
in the dress you wore in the dream
of atonement, the displaced tree in
the dream you wore, a suffering endurable
only once, edges that sought release
from envy to a more endurable loss,

a form to be walked past, that has
outworn the shame of time,
its colors sprung through description 
above a blaze of rhizomes spreading 
in an arable mat that mostly 
isn't simple but is calm & free—


Copyright © 2013 by Brenda Hillman. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on October 28, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

About this Poem

"A few months ago, I ran past a flowering plum tree in Berkeley, at its height of its flowering; I had been speaking with a friend about the economic doom that is happening-- no matter what they say about 'economic recovery'-- and about a struggle she was having in a relationship. I started thinking about  'between' zones in everything:  between perceptions, between sound and sense, between ease & fear, between landscape & dreamscape. I like images in poetry that can apply simultaneously to things like plants and soil and to an invisible spirit world and to linguistic constructs.  The horrors of an economy that serves so few and the friend's woes were in my mind when I wrote the first two stanzas, but there was a shift during the writing. In forms of life other than human, there is a vitality that isn't trapped in the sorrow. There may be an arable mat that is beyond our ability to harm it, or a collective unconscious. What would ease my friend's pain?  The passage of time, or simply remembering a moment of  undemanding beauty. A dress you wore, even if you no longer own that dress."
—Brenda Hillman  


Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman is the author of ten poetry collections, including Extra Hidden Life, among the Days (Wesleyan University Press, 2018). She received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 2012 and currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Date Published: 2013-10-28

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