Ariel Gordon: Weak Wood

Weak Wood
or, a found poem hewed from A Natural History of North American Trees
by Donald Culross Peattie



“It grows in the very spots most sought by the vacationing camper—in the high, dry, cool places, commonly close to clean, rushing water.” ~Western Trembling Aspen, Populus tremuloides Michaux

Les coureur des bois called its groves
“beaver sign.” Its white wood recommended it
to Mormon pioneers:
for log cabins,

for barn floors & corral posts

& siding & the stalls of horses. (Stands up to
the kicking & gnawing.) For snake
rail fences

& mine props. Its poles
have been pressed

into service

to carry telephone wires,

but the pulp loggers
prefer “popple”: ideal for excelsior,
for packing
watermelons, avocadoes
& cantaloupes,

padding furniture & coffin cushions.
As an absorbent or filter

in air-conditioning units

for cars. As soundproof




“Far to the north, the balsam poplar accompanies the lonely canoeman all the way, like a friend.” ~Balsam Poplar, Populus balsamifera Linnaeus

Nurse tree.

So soft among hardwoods.
Ointment is made of the clear gum

of its buds. Bees are said to smell
this gum from afar & to gather it on their thighs

& employ it in sealing up
the crevices

of their hives. Forever twinkling its bright foliage
& shaking it in the breeze.

Delights to grow upon low
& repeatedly inundated bottomlands:

riverbanks & sandbars. Borders of bogs
& swamps.

Crowded upon by others.
Driven away by the brood it nurtured.

Valuable for boxes & crates, cut into thin
veneers for berry baskets.

A core for costlier surfaces.




“There is no excuse for planting this tree.” ~Kansas State Board of Agriculture

A very fine shade tree.

With those smooth bright green twigs…
It is a short-lived tree.

Will assume the very palest of translucent yellows.
Of slow & muddy streams.

While providing a parasol in summer.
Much overplanted.

The Box Elder yields a sweet sap.
When violated by wind & sleet storms.

Sugar Ash.
Manitoba Maple.

A soft light yellow is not uncommon
Worthless except for fuel.

The wide-spreading, cool shade of a filmy-leaved…
Its weak wood.

In early spring the curious flowers.
All too easily splits.

Admitting light & any warmth there is.
Seems but a poor relation.

Any shade begins to look good.



“At all times the Black Ash may be known by its strikingly slim figure. The slender branches are almost upright and form a narrow head, making a remarkably gracile outline for an Ash.” ~Black Ash, Fraxinus nigra Marshall

The shiny blue/black winter buds
for one. Basket tree.
Two hacks of the hatchet

for a corner.
The very dark green of the foliage too,
perhaps. And growth is fast.

With some vigorous beating.
The dark heartwood,
which frequently. Witness tree.

Of woven chair bottoms
& barrel hoops.
Lumberman’s delight, rising straight

& thick as a granite column.
When the odd flowers
appear on the naked

wood. When water & sap are abundant.
Burls as big as washtubs
on the trunks

of old swamp-grown trees.
Bulging out the trunk in great

Three [hacks] for a line or pointer.
Then they drop all at once.

Like contour maps of mountainous country,
like displays of aurora borealis,
like a dark & riffling tide:

Curly Ash. From washboards
to church pews.
A fine old tree?

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.

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