TreeTalk

A boulevard elm outside a Winnipeg restaurant becomes a canvas for the thoughts, poems and secrets of passersby

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On July 29 and 30, Ariel Gordon sat on the Tallest Poppy’s patio as part of a Synonym Art Consultation residency, writing snippets of poems which she hung from the tree using paper and string.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/08/2017 (1828 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

On July 29 and 30, Ariel Gordon sat on the Tallest Poppy’s patio as part of a Synonym Art Consultation residency, writing snippets of poems which she hung from the tree using paper and string.

Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press
Ariel Gordon with the elm. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Passersby were invited to TreeTalk too — their secrets / one-liners / meditations / haiku were also hung from the tree. Over the course of the weekend, Mike Deal took a series of photos of the project.

By the end of the weekend, the elm had a second, temporary canopy of leaves: 234 poems, 111 written by Gordon, 107 written by passersby, 16 from other sources (field guides, mostly…).

This is an excerpt from the TreeTalk found poem, in photos and text:

 

TreeTalk

 

“White Elm. Ulmus americana. Other names: American, River, Water, or Soft Elm.”

— A Natural History of North American Trees, Donald Culross Peattie.

 

“The American elm, indigenous to the province, withstands the extremes of prairie winters and tolerates salt dumped on our streets, soil compaction and the vagaries of city works and operations departments.”

— About Elms, Trees Winnipeg.

 

(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

The horizon is filled with crosses, strings of lights, a succession

of doors & windows. A dead elm just down the street.

Tell time by bus schedule, the number of broken

yolks in the breakfast rush.

 

He is the first to approach. He circles the patio.

Finally, he sits & stares at the tree. Spell thanks, he says,

and waits. Spell mother. Spell earth.

 

After he’s gone, a brace of motorcycles. Dropped cutlery.

The rattle of leaves. A girl who laughs & laughs.

 

I lean back & look at the big old elm.

 

    Been living on this block for years. This tree is forever.

    I’m too hungover to write anything.

 

Sundresses, shredded fish-net stockings

or Hawaiian shirts with fat pineapples. Frayed cut-offs

& thin band t-shirts. A rickety skateboard.

 

A suitcase. A rainbow hula-hoop.

“Bark dark grey, rough, furrowed when old.

 

Twigs alternate, slender, smooth or hairy.

Flowers before leaves, small purplish or yellowish,

on long stems in loose drooping clusters.” [1]

 

    Veni vidi foliage.

 

(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

A waitress looks across the street, murmurs: Look

at her legs — ah! Those blue shoes!

That dress — ah! Should I yell?

 

People look up when the church-bell chime pours

over treetops & roofline crows heave

into the air.

 

Behind my table, I am shaded, cooled.

I am canopied, in good company.

I am treed.

 

    You may be relaxing in the shade, but these leaves are workin’!!

 

(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Next door: Most Cellphones Unlocked.

Wasps hover in the middle distance.

We Buy GOLD!! A truck honks across the street.

 

People sit on the patio, knees touching. A tree

instead of an awning or umbrella. A waitress murmurs

Ice tea? It would be my pleasure.

 

A woman writes Peace and Serenity, then runs

to catch the bus, her lip

quivering.

    I’ve heard it said that trees move through time rather than space, as we do.

 

A pennywhistle in a panhandler’s beard. A gleaming

marigold in a boulevard planter. Elms & haze.

The tip of a cane, striking

the ground.

 

A small black bug beetles

across my desk. Something green & fleeting

alights on the lens of my glasses. A double-toothed leaf falls.

 

    I’m scared of falling back into old habits.

 

    It’s not the tree’s fault.

 

Outside for six hours. I feel like a melted candle,

exhaust sticky on my skin, thistle down caught in my hair.

 

The tree spot-lit. The elm golden-houred.

Sun on the pavement. Sun on my hair.

 

(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

We all lean toward the shade. The tree a wading pool

of coolness. Shallow relief.

 

    Thank you for giving us clean air. I’m sorry for what we are doing to you.

 

    I want us to be better.

 

Leaves & paper. Wasps’ nests. Manuscripts.

Coffee cups. Cones, flowers & seeds, dispersed.

Soiled napkins. Receipts.

 

A canopy of poems, tied to a tree.

 

As I leave, I wonder: should I pour my glass of ice water

over its roots? Should I come back at three am

& prune it?

 

 


 

 

[1] Field Guide to the Native Trees of Manitoba by Edward T. Oswald and Frank H. Nokes. Winnipeg: Manitoba Department of Natural Resources, 1983.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer. Both her books of poetry, Stowaways (2014) and Hump (2010) won the Lansdowne Prize for Poetry at the Manitoba Book Awards. She is currently working on two books, GUSH, a collection of literary work on menstruation for Calgary’s Frontenac House, edited with Tanis MacDonald and Rosanna Deerchild and Treed, a book of creative non-fiction about Winnipeg’s urban forest for Hamilton’s Wolsak & Wynn.

Thanks to ArtsJunktion MB for the supplies that made this project possible, to Tallest Poppy for the chicken-and-waffles that sustained me over the weekend, and to Andrew and Chloe at SAC for all their support.

(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
(Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
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