Mar. 18, 2002

Planting Trees

by John Updike

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Poem: "Planting Trees," by John Updike from Collected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf).

Planting Trees

Our last connection with the mythic.
My mother remembers the day as a girl
she jumped across a little spruce
that now overtops the sandstone house
where still she lives; her face delights
at the thought of her years translated
into wood so tall, into so mighty
a peer of the birds and the wind.

Too, the old farmer still stout of step
treads through the orchard he has outlasted
but for some hollow-trunked much-lopped
apples and Bartlett pears. The dogwood
planted to mark my birth flowers each April,
a soundless explosion. We tell its story
time after time: the drizzling day,
the fragile sapling that had to be staked.

At the back of our acre here, my wife and I,
freshly moved in, freshly together,
transplanted two hemlocks that guarded our door
gloomily, green gnomes a meter high.
One died, gray as sagebrush next spring.
The other lives on and some day will dominate
this view no longer mine, its great
lazy feathery hemlock limbs down-drooping,
its tent-shaped caverns resinous and deep.
Then may I return, an old man, a trespasser,
and remember and marvel to see
our small deed, that hurried day,
so amplified, like a story through layers of air
told over and over, spreading.

It's the birthday of playwright Mark Medoff, born in Mount Carmel, Illinois (1940), best known for his play, Children of a Lesser God (1979).

It's the birthday of poet Michael Harper, born in Brooklyn (1938), author of Dear John, Dear Coltrane (1970), and other collections of poems.

It's the birthday of politician F.W. de Klerk, born in Johannesburg, South Africa (1936). When President P.W. Botha fell ill in 1989, de Klerk was elected leader of the National Party. He speeded up the reform process, released Nelson Mandela from prison, lifted the ban on the A.N.C. (African National Congress), met often with black leaders, and called a referendum (1992) in which 68 percent of the country's white voters endorsed reform of the apartheid system.

It's the birthday of novelist and poet John Updike, born in Shillington, Pennsylvania (1932), the son of a schoolteacher. As a young child he looked at copies of the New Yorker-a gift subscription from an aunt-and decided to be become a cartoonist. At Harvard he studied literature and helped edit the Harvard Lampoon. After graduation he won a fellowship to study art at Oxford. Only on his return from England, at 23 years old, did he give up his dream of being a cartoonist and turn seriously to writing. The best known of his novels are the four Rabbit Angstrom books: Rabbit, Run (1960); Rabbit Redux (1971); Rabbit Is Rich (1981-Pulitzer Prize, American Book Award); and Rabbit at Rest (1990-Pulitzer).

It's the birthday of editor and writer George Plimpton, born in New York City (1927). While on vacation in Paris in 1952, he founded the Paris Revue, which published Jack Kerouac, Terry Southern, Philip Roth and Henry Miller.

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