California has joined a growing number of states that allow residents to compost their bodies after death.
—Sarah Kuta, Smithsonian Magazine 2
Let me become a tree part
concealed in bark and leaf part
sandwiched between rings between
between seen and known in wind
babbling through the greening
canopy its breathing then
paint objects as
then and nowness a clear stream
burbling past limb and trunk
let me become a tree lie
lie a month in alfalfa
wood chips and used coffee grounds
as a tribute to the joke
I think them not
joke my blood type is French roast
risk of my sign being read
not as I
read as a Starbucks logo
lay me in alfalfa wood
chips within a steel bathtub
I see them I paint
bathtub take me away one
long Calgon moment let me
molder in clover Calgon take
take me away that old ad line
I may well be brain-dead to
quote but it’s my hay pile and
objects not as I
and I’ll rot if I want to
a month of blooming microbes
of summer days spread to pun
pun curing a cadaver
of cadaving mix remains
thoroughly with ground to plant
see them I paint objects as I think
plant for rest and shade instead
of lawns dotted with headstones
imagine Sherwood Forest
think them not as I
Forest oaks elms sycamores
from Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood
wave after wave of trees bend
I see them
bend and a waterfall from
the roar cascading past leaves as
limbs shadow what was what grows
- Title is a line from the poem “Adam Snow” by John Ashbery, in his collection April Galleons (The Viking Press, 1987).
- Kuta, Sarah, “California Has Legalized Human Composting” in Smithsonian Magazine (21 September 2022) [link verified on January 5, 2023]:
Italicized lines are by Pablo Picasso, as quoted by John Golding in Cubism: A History and Analysis, 1907-1914 (New York: G. Wittenborn, 1959), page 60.
“Like the Cubist Diary of a Brook” was written in direct response to both the Smithsonian Magazine article quoted in the epigraph and a corresponding one in The New York Times. The idea for the final structure came from reading the rengay “Life Is Like a River” by Marcyn Del Clements, which was an example poem for Wilda Morris’s October 2022 writing challenge. I was inspired to present two threads, moving simultaneously, with the Cubist idea of showing not just what can be seen but also what we know is present about the subject but unseen.
Another influence was William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow,” with its semi-syllabic framework. In each of Williams’s two-line stanzas, the first line varies in length, while the second line is always two syllables. The latter lends the reader’s eye and ear something solid upon which to grasp or to expect. In “Cubist,” I reversed the process. Each line in the tercet is seven syllables. A quotation from painter Pablo Picasso, presented as a series of fragments in single italicized lines, varies in length (see Footnote 3 above for the source).
Picasso seemed a natural fit for two reasons. The first was in the general sense of Cubist presentation mentioned earlier. The second came into play as I thought about when we visit the grave or attend the funeral of someone we know. We see a headstone, a crypt, a casket. Our minds travel back through what we remember about that person—what was said, personal habits and attitudes, experiences shared.
As we move forward and back concurrently, through past and present, we shift between what we see and what we know. This journey harkens toward Cubism as well as along the brook mentioned in the title of the poem. The fact that this is a private journey lends credence to the word “diary” in the title, as well—pages which record human experience, rings in a tree trunk which form throughout its lifetime.
The title was taken from the poem “Adam Snow” by John Ashbery, from his collection April Galleons. In her article “Favorites: Ten Poems by John Ashbery,” Karin Roffman writes that “Adam Snow” illustrates “the notion that the ordinary and the extraordinary exist side-by-side in our mind.” Some people consider a tree ordinary. Others see a wonder. The potential for a departed loved one to also be part of that tree, as if both of us listen attentively as wind passed through its leaves, is both special and wonderfully organic. The last stanza touches upon this point:
It read like the cubist diary of a brook
That sidled past the house one day
On its way to a rendezvous with some river
We can never cross twice. And the gradual
Escalation lay nearby: we cannot call it back
Yet may meet it again, in other times, under different
Looking back while moving forward continues in the way the Picasso quotation is presented. Leaving it unpunctuated allows it to unfold like water running down a brook, a continual loop. Doing so opened possibilities on how much to include and when, as well as the freedom to alter these fragments once the quotation was repeated. These alterations allowed for a Cubistic goal of re-seeing what transpires in a slightly different light or viewpoint, much as a viewer’s eyes might on rescanning a painting.
This goal of re-seeing also influenced the use of repetitions from the end of one tercet or single line and the beginning of the next. These repetitions are meant to hold each of the two sections of the poem together as they shuffle the reader from one thread to the other and back again. They also offer the potential of an aural aid to listeners if the poem is read aloud.
is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer with an MFA from California State University, Long Beach. His work has appeared in San Pedro Poetry Review, Synkroniciti, West Texas Literary Review, Gleam: Journal of the Cadralor, MacQueen’s Quinterly, and other publications. His second poetry chapbook, Beneath a Glazed Shimmer, won the 2019 Clockwise Chapbook Prize and was published in February 2021 by Tebor Bach.
⚡ It Belongs to Each of Us Like a Blanket by Jonathan Yungkans, Winner of “The Question of Questions” Ekphrastic Writing Challenge (Issue 15, September 2022)
⚡ Le Grand Matin by Jonathan Yungkans, a Finalist in MacQ’s Triple-Q Writing Challenge (Issue 11, January 2022)
⚡ La Porte by Yungkans in MacQ’s special Christmas Eve issue (10X, December 2021)
⚡ Two Duplex Poems, plus author’s notes on the poems and on the form, by Yungkans in Issue 10 of MacQ (October 2021)
⚡ Lawful and Proper, poem in Rise Up Review (Fall 2020)
⚡ Cadralor in the Key of F-Sharp as It Cuts into My Spine, in the inaugural issue of Gleam (Fall 2020)
⚡ I’d Love to Cook Like Hannibal Lecter [video], read by the poet at an event sponsored by Moon Tide Press (10 October 2019) celebrating the anthology Dark Ink: A Poetry Anthology Inspired by Horror
⚡ Saving the Patient, poem in The Voices Project (18 January 2018)