I behold a tree—
the gnarled branches twisting
toward the sky, away from me.
Clinging to the trunk of the present.
From here, all the knots and leaves
appear equally pleasant.
But climbing one branch means
forsaking the rest…
Lord, how to know which one is best?
Sometimes I cannot help but long
to find my destiny down in the soil,
where the roots down there would around me,
The dirt is where we all find ourselves eventually—
Poets, Physicians, Mothers, Painters, Teachers—
But what to leave above the earth?
Can’t ignore the desire to have given something birth—
a Child, a Thought, a Smile—anything to have
made the time worthwhile.
Will Wikipedia think my biography worthy of a page?
Or will I spend my days in the shadows of backstage,
thinking only of the minute hand?
(Wackenroder’s Naked Saint would understand.)
But Art and Love, he says, can set us free
from this torture that comes from multiplicity.
I wrote this poem during the summer after my junior year of college when I was in the midst of my first major depressive episode. The tree image was inspired by a passage in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and also a tree that I sat under with my best friend at the time. As we looked at the tree, we mused about the different paths we could take in life. The Wackenroder “naked saint” reference comes from a German fairy tale I read in college about a man, the “naked saint,” who lives in a cave and thinks only of the “turning wheel of time.” The fairy tale described depression beautifully– like a cave you are stuck in while everyone else goes about their day outside.