Three Trees

Barbara Walters once asked a president:

“If you could be a tree,

what tree would you be?”

Barbara, you took shit for that question,

but I will answer you in words of green syllables

as veined as a maple leaf.


I could live as a madrone,

twisting below the taller redwoods,

stunted, peeling purple bark like old scabs,

spreading evergreen leaves to pocket sunlight,

twining my roots with my taller neighbors,

hiccuping berries for birds to eat

and plant my children away from my dangerous shade.


Or I could be a laurel tree, crowning myself

in glorious scents, smelling of peppers and lemon,

sending vertical shafts of branches

off a horizontal span, fingering through

the beams of light timbering the forest.


I could live my long years as a redwood,

spiraling every three months one more notch

toward the forest canopy

until I could branch past the Douglas firs and dwarf oaks

to taste the first light, each dawn

and see first the fog wall avalanching down

toward my thirst and voluminous hunger.


I would choose from among this holy trinity,

despite bacteria, fungus, flood, fire and loggers,

just to live my life above and below,

in the network of roots and stars

in the lair of the raccoon,

in the canopy of the forest.


by Paul Totah

October 23, 1999

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