Cane Trilogy

If life’s a Great Circle arc,
the shortest distance between two points
does not describe my life.
I think of tortuous meandering paths and excursions,
dead ends, those parallel trails on the meadows
lest we hikers step on alpine wildflowers
as we pass and hail each other unhearing,
uninterrupted in our sojourns of silence.

Parallel Trails

Parallel Trails

I do not need a name for “my life”,
to reflect upon its component events, parts and stages,
to ask, are these “me” and is “here” just a geometric point
on the arc of travel between points “A” and “B”?

We travel together in time for a while,
parting sometimes with the best of intentions
to get on with it,
this business of living and sharing our lives.
Not to dwell in the past,
yet to look at the continuum
as the cumulative experience of adventures
still fused here forever in time:
as they speculate on the meaning of a fourth dimension,
The name I need to capture “my life” is,
at all points on the line, just “me”.

To look at all of it at once as one single thing,
One single creature moving and growing in time,
I suddenly think of a communications trunk line
growing with the community, a living wiring harness
with talking cable branches neatly lashed and laced,
strapped and spliced to different changing destinations,
thinking: how they’ll run in new coparallel trunks
for new communities within the whole,
arteries and veins feeding the bigger organism,
with the growing switching circuits
controlling the process, yes, it is a process,
like neurons and ganglia and flashing synapses
running like brand-new on-time trains.

So patiently dumbly precise and pure,
purposeful without self-design,
tolerant of uselessness
like the disconnects they don’t bother to pull
because copper and plastic never decay.
Too plastic to please this royal highness’s pride,
My search turns for another model, image, intricacy.
I seek a simile to say more, to sum it all up, to say
“My life is like………..”, the unfinished intimacy.

Easy to answer tautologically that it’s just like “me”,
so should not need more than this self-evidence,
yet I muse in protest the dead-ends and false starts
were NOT just “disconnects”,
but parts of that richness of the entire collection.

SO SAID the botanist who walked through his garden estate:

“See that one THERE, that one with the twisted habit!
I should have pruned that one for shape early
but could not bear to change its still-unique form,
self-bonsai’d branching shape snaking low over
the humus as if in search of something new …”

So too I treasure all of it, not wont to amend a thing
but the need to relate the meaning of “then” to “now”
and then, and then?.
Oh yes, that friendship failed, this branch just broke
from its own weight, just like that,
maybe too rigid to weather some long-past storm.
Right here at the faint scar in the bark
the plant itself changed,
finding growth in a more viable direction.
I see I need a living model to relate memories
to today’s direction and tomorrow’s smile.

This Dieffenbachia was here all the while.I see this now,
a sorry thing of a plant I rescued from the wreckage,
a broken family I once knew years ago.

Its common name is “Dumb Cane” for the sap or juice
that can paralyze speech if so ingested,
I’d prefer to think in this case symbolic of misuse,
of mute silence at mindless hurt so suggested,
left neglected, spindly, dying
like the family that left it espying
wind-scattered ashes,
the good in man so badly untested.

I kept the plant and took care of that
but see, count four trunk segments out from the base
how the stalks, also coparallel, spindle and taper,
a living record of a time of near-death by starvation
from which it recovered, now healthy and robust
but forever deformed in the middle, no strength to support
the weight of the health which subsequently grew.

Unlike me, this part of that plant
will never stand upright again.
It has its tabletop to support the weight
of its years, while I am yet free.

So I see we cannot help but read
into this the “that” of life for all to see,
Come, look at THAT
where the younger plant almost died as it tried
twisting and turning to a new light.
Hopelessly “leggy”, that thing,
but like the botanist it will never be I
to lop off its history, its story
to rebranch it, correct it, apart from its past.

Maybe man is the measure of all the things,
like the botanist again who sees certain specie
segment their trunks as they radiate new rings
and leaves of foliage to flourish for a while,
to drop off as the growth tip pushes on
past the old segment; each segment a record
of a period in plant-time if you know how to look.

I guess they have a name for that too,
but do we have a need to know? I do enjoy
seeing it flourish again and do so well,
as if plants could even tell
what I was doing at the time.

THERE’s where the broken family left the plant to die,
which marks the time of busted hearts when tearstained
wide-eyed children gravely faced a great unknown,
the time of the fourth segmentation, of those yet ungrown,
of sullen, angry parents and innocent young faces pained,
I but knew and cared for them, and shared their need to cry.

They’re gone now.
The plant they left for dead
thirty-one segments in all now,
at fourteen turned up to the light
From the tabletop it must use for support
it reaches robustly, a remarkable recovery, nice save, revival,
a rugged testy little bastard orphan fighting for survival.

Maybe it did take FIVE YEARS to grow back to the light
in one window of sun and nourishment I had to offer
a dumb cane I never talk to, never groom or preen
beyond the basic needs of life. It asks no more than I proffer;
Its own route was tortuous too. It’s plain I empathize.
it’s been on its own long and winding path exploring
the tabletop of its world, a hard-won prize.

No use wondering if the children turned out as well, it seems
nor whether or where mommy & daddy still chase broken dreams.
In real wars the survivors, like the wounded, get left behind too,
so in this plant thing, as many other small things which we do,
we are all wrong, off target, insincere all along
when we see in the beginning the end of our song.

Something different surfaced sooner this year,
a new shoot sprang up, perfect, from the dumb cane’s soil
a specimen nursery plant, unsullied by ravages of time,
ignorantly hopeful, bold pure green, unscarred, upright:
confident, demanding of nourishment and light.

I enjoy this new thing too, I’ve learned,
unafraid I’ll read too much in its brashness.
New life firmly rooted to the old
I’ll care for (as far the dumb canes or I are concerned)
essentially forever.

The measurement of arc from point “A” to “B”
has nothing to do with “unafraid of dying”.
In nature, not for lack of trying,
a Great Circle assumes many forms as do its arcs,
hopping and skipping like the Aurora Borealis
snaking over the hintermost recesses of the land:
Thus in this way the living thing’s defined
neither by its source nor its end, and so do we see
totality of being and process in continuity united,
tomorrow’s past in motion today,
action, reflective, reflexive, unafraid to be.

© Alex Forbes March-24-1990

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