Gathered at the River by Denise Levertov
for Beatrice Hawley and John Jagel
As if the trees were not indifferent…
A breeze flutters the candles but the trees give off
a sense of listening, of hush.
The dust of August on their leaves.
But it grows dark. Their dark green
is something known about, not seen.
But summer twilight takes away
only color, not form. The tree-forms,
massive trunks and the great domed heads,
leaning in towards us, are visible,
a half-circle of attention.
They listen, because the war
we speak of, the human war with ourselves,
the war against earth
is a war against them.
The words are spoken
of those who survived a while,
lying shadowgraphs, eyes fixed forever
on witnessed horror,
who survived to give
testimony, that none
may plead ignorance.
Contra naturam. The trees,
the trees are not indifferent.
We intone together, Never again,
we stand in a circle,
singing, speaking, making vows,
remembering the dead
We are holding candles: we kneel to set them
afloat on the dark river
as they do there in Hiroshima. We are invoking
saints and prophets
heroes and heroines of justice and peace,
to be with us, to help us
stop the torment of our evil dreams. . .
Wind threatened flames bob on the current . . .
They don’t get far from shore. But none capsizes
even in the swell of a boat’s wake.
The waxy paper cups sheltering them
catch fire. But still the candles
sail their gold downstream.
And still the trees ponder our strange doings, as if
well aware that if we fail,
we fail also for them:
if our resolves and prayers are week and fail
there will be nothing left of their slow and innocent wisdom,
no bole nor branch,