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pine marten illustration
Illustration credit: Tiffany Francis-Baker

IV

An empty silence rippled through
the dark and ailing wood,
until, at last, each thicket, fern
and sapling understood,
and all at once, with whispers turned
to groans, the silence broke,
as one voice rose above the rest,
and thus the yew tree spoke -
‘Listen closely, friends, for many
thousand years I’ve known -
they claim I am immortal but,
in truth, I’m just slow grown.
I’ve watched the apes disintegrate
and seen the sickness spread -
and when the world began to burn
I watched them turn their head.
In sylvan sympathy, you might
take pity on their fall,
but know your generosity
can never save us all.
For just as rotting apples must
be plucked from healthy boughs,
these unrelenting souls must leave
our sweet and earthly house.
The end has come for those, but let
it not be our demise,
for if we act today, we might
still see the earth uprise,
and every forest burnt to ash
might grow and breathe and bloom -
This still might be a paradise
and not a fiery tomb.’
In sad concession, all the forest
bowed its crown and wept,
then turned again to yew to ask
how might they intercept.
‘We will not fight,’ declared the tree,
‘with war or flame or violence.
We’ll fire their own weapons back -
Hard, impassive silence.
Apathy will be our fuel, for
nothing deeper burns,
than pleading clemency and
getting nothing in return.
Retreat! We must retreat, and draw
back in our tender roots,
or we protect them from the
consequence of their abuse.
We suck their blackened smog into
our core and give back air,
we clean their water, grow their food,
shield them from solar glare;
The soil in which they ripen wheat
is built upon our bones,
we cool their cities, stop the rising
floods drowning their homes;
And from our bark and leaves they
extract precious medicine,
to keep their organs pumping -
working eyes and lungs and skin.
Let us, then, take back the gifts
we’ve offered for so long,
and hope they do not suffer when
they realise what is wrong.
Let us retreat into our hearts,
sink into gentle sleep,
to hibernate away the years
in slumber, dark and deep.
And when we wake, restored, the earth
might seem a world unknown,
but only then can wilderness,
exiled, reclaim its throne.’

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