This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 423,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

"The Names of Trees," by Christopher Fox Graham, music by Robert Gonzales


Music by Robert Gonzales, recorded 12-31-2012 in Flagstaff, Arizona

The Names of Trees

By Christopher Fox Graham
before we named the trees
we feared the dark
ran from the shadows
monsters stalked us
in daytime’s tall grasses
and nighttime’s nightmares

we feared fire most of all
it ate the unnamed trees alive
its breath choked the beasts we hunted
we could not hold it
and could not fight it
just fear it

but one of us
The First of us
saw an infant spark
and treated it like a child
she learned to wield it
our first tool
brought it into the caves
and taught us not to fear
but use it
to chase away the monsters

fire is always the same
because a flame is never the same
from moment to moment
by always changing
the flame never changes

with fire
we learned to control the shadows
we danced them onto cave walls
where we trapped the monsters in ocher and ash

we used the fire to keep the beasts away in the night
to cook the bounty gathered from the earth
and roast our meat from the day’s hunt

and with bellies full
in the glow of the fire
we learned language
around campfires
as our elders told stories
of their young days long passed
they told us the names of trees:
oak
ash
banyan
pine
bodhi
fir
palm
cedar
sugi
cypress
they spoke of the strong mothers who raised them
the great hunts of their brave fathers
how they leaned ways to teach us these things

they told us
of ancestors who had long since turned to bones
and were now dust
who had sprinkled themselves across the heavens
to watch over us
always
glowing in the dark
like flames in the night

when the fire in their own hearts
began to flicker
they asked us to built fires to mourn their death
help ascend their bodies
so they could watch over us from new stars
alongside their ancestors

around the fire
we learned to structure nouns and verbs
into rhythm and beat
rhyme and stanza
turning the articulation of breath
the staccato of consonants
the tone and pitch of air in living lungs
into the art of poetry
stories we could pass from generation to generation
long after the first lungs to hold them
were silent beneath the dirt
we still tell some of those stories
passing along the poetry
of heroes
who are no longer bones
no longer dust
but vapor in the wind

around the fire
we passed on what we had learned
to the children who would mourn us
consider these frail lifeless bones still sacred
because they once held them
in their infancy

long after our bones turned to dust
and the dust turned to vapor
and the vapor exhaled by something new
they would remember … us
in the stories around the fire

a ribbon of flesh and fire
tied us to the infant spark
that The First one of us
held without fear

fire is always the same
because a flame is never the same
from moment to moment
by always changing
the flame never changes

it is consumption and combustion
a moment of reaction
between earth and air
the tangible and ethereal
in a spark of life
never the same from one second the next

nothing is eternal but change
so our civilizations learn to adapt
like tongues of flame
growing together or apart
rising and falling
expanding and shrinking
dancing in a campfire

we sometimes forget that lesson
so our empires defy it
our monuments stand against it
our great cities are abandoned
for new homes
Sumeria
is now just artifacts
Assyria
has become Scrabble word
31 dynasties ruled Egypt,
each falling to the next
the dream of Rome
became a dream again
the sun never set on the British Empire
until the day it did
and young America too
will grow old into history books
but the fire will still be the same
because a flame is never the same
from moment to moment

even now
in the glow of digital screens
behind the wheel of combustion engines
or miles above the earth
in steel aircraft
or space stations
we are still mesmerized by the flame
we gather around fireplaces on holidays
remembering the ancient reasons for things
we light wax candles for dead loved ones
hoping whispered words
might rise to their ears in the heavens
where they watch us
alongside ancestors

we find ourselves
still captivated by campfires
staring into them
unable to look away sometimes
while we tell stories
just like we used to
when home
wasn’t made from stone and brick
or animal skins from last year’s hunt
but the warmest cave
on our nomadic trek
following the herds
teaching our children
the names of trees

some day
when we no longer fear the dark
a descendant of the flame that first warmed us
as we lay dreaming of stars
will help send a few of us
beyond the reach of Earth
never again to see this home
more will follow
using flickers of fire
to pass the boundaries
break the laws of gravity
that we will refuse to obey any longer
and sail across the night
unafraid of the monsters we left behind
trapped on cave walls beneath ocher and ash
they will make their homes
on marbles of every color
swirling in the dusty arms of space
and in the wildernesses of new worlds
they will name new trees
tell stories around campfires of ancestors
strong mothers
brave fathers

fire is always the same
because a flame is never the same
from moment to moment
by always changing
the flame never changes

some day
when “human”
means something else entirely
and whomever we become
sails on the winds of supernovas
finds no fear exploring black holes
the last place darkness can hide from us

they may communicate the poetry quasars and quarks
with the same beauty as verbs and nouns
but still stare at the surface of suns
and without explanation why
know the fire burning before them
is still wonderful to witness
because in the glimmer of a memory
dancing with the arithmetic of orbiting atoms
and the geometry of galaxies
they can feel something deep in their bones
tying them like a ribbon of flesh and flame across time
to a tiny world
whose name they have forgotten
or can no longer pronounce
and remember
somehow,
ancestors who wielded an infant spark
to no longer fear monsters or the dark
but listen around the first campfire
to poetry
and stories
and the names of trees

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