“Ash Tree” by Chris Poundwhite

In so few strides I circumambulate the tree, its centuries
centred in rings of heartwood, sapwood – the circularity
of years, charted seasons, bud & leaf-fall, bloom & icicle

Myth in its fibres, wood made word; the fissured bark
of Yggdrasil, world-tree, tree of Ask – the first man, tree
of manna, foe feller, child healer, known by eye & fingertip

Here, see the fine and delicate strata of its leaves, how they gift
sun’s light one to another, on and on down through themselves,
filter & diffuse it, release of form & structure, release as gesture


Chalara, the trees’ killer, gets to work in summer:
spore to leaf, hypha to stoma, appressorium splits
the epidermis, fungus threads the pith, xylem & phloem

In months leaves wither, stems drop, branches purple, suffer
lesions. Crown slides low, turns winter-brittle off season.
Disease strips whole hills of trees, makes place memory

I cannot know the tragedy of moths & lichens, their soft
dusty bodies, their searching mouths, their ecosystem
syphoned out of other, larger, ecosystems, last generations

of their species. I only know how names on maps – Askrigg,
Askham, Ashford – will slip their meaning, trip the tongue,
the way word follows world, & how forest light will alter

CHRIS POUNDWHITE is a poet concerned with ecology, climate, and the human relationship to land and the non-human. His poems have appeared in a number of journals and magazines, including the Reliquiae supplement, Longshore Drift, and Otata. He teaches ecopoetry courses & workshops through Go to the Pine, and works on poetry commissions that fall within his spheres of interest. Chris also co-curates SALT, an annual festival of place & environment based in Folkestone, Kent.

Ash Tree was commissioned by The Ash Project as part of The Ash Archive

The poem has been featured on  The Clearing, an online journal by Little Toller books for new writing: https://www.littletoller.co.uk/the-clearing/poetry/ash-tree-by-chris-poundwhite/

Online Ash Archive