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  #1  
Unread 06-26-2019, 08:36 AM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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The Rape Tree

You are in there somewhere, in the woods that skirt
that park. So much like the others with roots exposed
that trip the earth, boughs that tip the light. The countless
arms that, as a child, I'd trust to hold my weight. I swear
I'd know you on my back and looking up, the sky slipping
through your fingers. Crowned by leaves, I once forgot
my feet---all in one grip, clawing at a knot, until I screamed
myself up to where I'd try to move on. Hugged the trunk
I thought for sure was sweating. It was then I lost my will
to wander up, and am still, at times, a child frozen, stuck
in that piece of sky, where life starts to open. Trapped
by height, that very personal gravity, the not looking down.


**Note: Been gradually revising this as it sinks. Will respond and provide notes on changes if it generates any interest. Thx.

Original

The Rape Tree

You are in there somewhere, in the woods that skirt
that park. So much like the others, the almost countless
boughs that, as a child, I'd trust to hold my weight. I swear
I'd know you if I were on my back and looking up, the sky
slipping through your fingers. Once I didn't remember
my feet and my whole self was in one grip until I screamed
my limbs up to where I'd next try to stand. Hug the trunk
I thought for sure was sweating. It was then I lost my will
to wander up, and am still, at times, a child frozen, stuck
in that piece of sky, where life starts to open. Trapped
by height, that very personal gravity of not looking down.

L3: changed "arms" to "boughs."

Last edited by James Brancheau; Yesterday at 10:58 AM.
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  #2  
Unread 06-27-2019, 12:34 AM
Ron Greening Ron Greening is offline
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James, my response to this poem was visceral. “Arms that, as a child, I’d trust” sets “if I were on my back looking up” to be just more devastating. The content of the poem is so serious that it feels intrusive to critique the poetry of it.

To be critical, I felt the opening to be a little contrived: I suspect that he is actually not still in there and that the narrator would also realise this. What does remain there? Why almost countless? Also, perhaps the poem becomes abstract and loses some of its power after “stuck in that piece of sky”. Maybe stop at sky, though that would leave this as quite a short piece. I can’t imagine this as a time when life would open, at least not with immediacy. I am unable to meaningfully connect with the ideas of being trapped by height or personal gravity, though I see that this links thematically with the innocent trust. Maybe this will come for me.

The violence was presented with a surreal power that felt authentic and awful.

Regards, Ron
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  #3  
Unread 06-27-2019, 09:55 AM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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Thanks much, Ron. Probably it wouldn't have made a difference, but maybe I shouldn't have put for a friend in the subject line. Anyway, just in case, I don't want anyone to fear hammering away at this one. Because the tree is perhaps still there, I thought I could get away with the opening. But you have me looking at that again. Great to hear that parts of this struck you.
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  #4  
Unread 06-27-2019, 06:37 PM
Ashley Bowen Ashley Bowen is offline
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Hi, James,

For me, I had to read the poem about three times to really get a tenuous grip on the plot here. And I can't tell if I think that's genius or not. Here's the conundrum for me: I don't know if the "you" is the rapist or if the "you" is the tree. And I think that's the real hurdle here. That haziness in the poem's direct address creates a distance in the poem, for me anyway.

I don't know what "So much like the others, the countless . . ." means. What is like the others? Is the tree like the others? The whole sentence is really hard to parse. I trusted arms to hold my weight?

Okay. Let's start with the obvious. The title is an incredible liability. I'm not sure that it's something that I can completely articulate, but I don't think the title is earned yet. But, again, I can't articulate why. But I think it's because of the clarity issue about who is being addressed.

Here's a minor tweak that I hope you won't hate me for suggesting:

You're there somewhere in the woods that skirt
that park, nearly like the almost countless others
that, as a child, I'd trust to hold my weight. I swear
I'd know you the second I was on my back, the sky
slipping through your fingers. Once, I didn't remember
my feet and my whole self seized inside a grip until I screamed
my limbs up to where I'd next tried to stand. Hug the trunk
I thought for sure was sweating. I lost my will
to wander up right then, and am still, at times, a child frozen, stuck
in that piece of sky, where life starts to open. Trapped
by height, not looking down.
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  #5  
Unread 06-27-2019, 10:59 PM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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Yeah, I expected at least some pushback on the title. Though I wanted things to be a little hazy throughout, one of the (perhaps few) advantages of the title was that I thought it would make the "you" there at the start a bit clearer. I guess not. I'm not quite ready to give up on the title (or the current close), but maybe there's something I can do to make the poem, at least at the beginning, easier to understand. Many thanks, Ashley. I'm chewing on it.

Last edited by James Brancheau; 06-27-2019 at 11:27 PM.
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  #6  
Unread 06-29-2019, 01:21 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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This poem is elliptical and quasi-surreal, which is part of its appeal. It draws me back for repeated readings, and draws me in every time. The imagery is rich and strange, but just familiar enough to make the strangeness palatable and credible. Spellbinding, the way fear and horror can be.

I agree with what others have said about the title. For nits, the word "almost" in line 2 strikes me as filler. Not something a child would think, and in any case unnecessary.

But very nice work in this. It broaches deep and forbidden territory, telling it slant.

Last edited by Andrew Frisardi; 06-29-2019 at 01:25 AM. Reason: typo
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  #7  
Unread 06-29-2019, 03:57 AM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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Thank you very much, Andrew. I'm thrilled that you like this. I will get rid of "almost," but need to think whether I'll just drop it or replace it with something else. As for the title, yeah, I guess I should probably lose that too. But it's a big problem. I feel that I need the reader to know certain information if this is going to work. I'd be grateful for any suggestions you or anyone else might have. Thanks again!
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  #8  
Unread 06-29-2019, 05:15 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi James,

I may be looking at this too simply, but I found it fairly easy to follow, at least the way I read it. I took the 'you' to be the tree which the N used to climb as a child, and under which they were later raped. That's the surface. The telling of it is layered and dreamlike, or nightmarish. The imagery of looking up through branches and losing one's footing while tree-climbing from L3 to 8 has disturbing echoes of the rape. I do think you need the title. It's blunt, yes, but I'm not sure what the objections are to it. I wonder if you need the last sentence at all, but might just finish on 'down', perhaps expanding or tinkering with that last line to get the idea that childhood was frozen just as life should have been opening up.

I think it's a strongly felt poem.
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  #9  
Unread 06-29-2019, 06:33 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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x
James, this really has a haunt and melancholy to it that poetry embodies so well. It took me quite a few reads until I finally saw the rape in it. I still struggle with assigning the rape to the tree, but that may depend on how the poem is interpreted.
I do not read this as some others have. I don't see a literal, physical, violent rape. I see the rape of innocence There is a point of no return. when accidents happen and it causes the person to be changed forever going forward -- Like falling out of a tree might....The point when innocence fractures and ignorance takes over and experience is a long road ahead. This feels to be a poem about that point in life when innocence is lost. When childhood and all its dreamy wonder wakes out of it and into the real and uncomfortable.

It takes a few readings to become familiar with the rhythm without much use of punctuation -- which I think works well. Your line breaks are good enough to keep things in focus.

The title feels a bit harsh. Was it the tree that raped the N? Or is it something else? It feels unfair to a degree. Or maybe it's the word "rape". Maybe it’s not rape. If I'm reading this correctly it’s a theft more than a rape.

L7: “where I’d next try to stand” comes of the tongue clumsily but doesn't impede my understanding.

“Skirt” is an interesting word for the location of the woods to the park. It may be a hint to tell me I'm reading the poem all wrong (but that's not possible, is it? It's the reader's prerogative ). That there was a rape that took place under the same tree that in earlier times was the tree that was a child's climbing tree. Frost's musing on nature, the woods and childhood also comes in and out of this (in a darker kind of way).

The N's familiarity with the trees brought to mind this poem by David Wagoner that recalls native American wisdom.

Sorry if I am not reading this as you intended. I can actually read it in both ways, which is a bonus -- a very good poem.
x
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  #10  
Unread 06-30-2019, 11:44 AM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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Though I'm still going back and forth on it, I'm very happy to get your vote for the title, Mark. That actually came first. Right now, as much as I understand reservations about it (I had some before posting), I don't know how I can do without it. Just even on a technical level. And whether or not it works, it was certainly good for the process of writing this out. Being so blunt up front seemed to free up the poem. Thank you.

Hey Jim~ no, wasn't my intention, but a poem, imo, needs to live other lives and I liked your interpretation. Thanks for the Wagoner! I love where that ends up. I'll keep in mind smoothing out that line. I tripped over it a bit too. Thanks for going into depth about how you saw this. Cheers.

I'd like to add, Jim, that your interpretation is not so out there. Just not as specific and shattering as what I was going for.

Last edited by James Brancheau; 06-30-2019 at 12:14 PM.
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