The Bay Laurel and the Bird – a poem

The human animal is, in truth, a vine.

It puts down roots and sends out shoots

and flourishes in the sun.

It clings to its brick and mortar,

extends runners to embrace the walls.

It knows the soil and the light and the taste of the air.

It has counted every rock in the yard.


“I grew up in this house. I watched my brothers

throwing baseballs in the back,

my sisters twanging on Grandmother’s piano.

I smelled Mother’s cooking each time

I sprawled out on the carpet.

I know every ink spot speckle of Father’s pen.”


The average human puts down roots

and never leaves the fortress of the familiar,

even at the end.


“Bury me between the oak and the fence,

where I can see the sunset. Tell my son,

my brother, my sister, my daughter –

tell whomever that he, that she, that they

can have the old place. Just keep it in the family.”


The average human molders and feeds the ants

and the grass, and soon a vine grows

up, to cling to the brick and mortar,

extends runners to embrace the walls.


I was a bay tree in a pot. My roots were

cramped and curled up tight. They sought

deep soil, but found only white beads

of artificial fertilizer. When I reached

for the sun, my shoulders hit glass.


“Plant me here! Let me taste real rain.

I have grown inside for all my life, stunted

and crabbed like a bonsai. God, please,

let me get to know the birds.”


In the first place, the air was dust and

ground comino. My roots scratched at

the limestone they put in my pot. I felt

shells and a rusted crucifix, and mountain

laurels dropped their burning seeds

outside my window.


“Can we stay? It’s spicy here, and the water

is thick with faith. I could thrust my roots

into the missions and smile at the tourists.

Here, I could be scorched, and grow, and marry,

and die.”


In the second place, the air was exhaust, with

traces of shrimp and petroleum. They gave

trees to the rich and guns to the poor, in case

of hurricanes. I heard ballet and buskers rapping

for the first time.


“Can we stay? Life is so fast, here. It smells

like reality, photographed in high contrast. Things

are so tall here, so tall and black like the forests

in my dreams. Here, I could be cut, shot, and so

living is all the sweeter while it lasts.”


In the third place, pines ruled the sky.

Marionberries crept up my legs and begged me

to stay,

and I wanted to,

even though it was a place where all Catholics

go to hell. I reached out, there, and felt others

reaching for me. Then they clipped my roots again

and we flew North.


“No! Let me stay, let me grow, let me live.

Let me twine my branches with the native vines!

There was light and shade and deep black earth!

There was water and birdsong and love.”


In the fourth place, the sky overwhelmed. There

was wind and dust, and I was parched. The sun

blinded, and the winter cracked; my finger-leaves

bled. But there were smiles and careful hands

and a mentor, whom I miss.


“I love you, but the air has sucked me dry,

there are tumbleweeds in my hair, and the heavens

are so close, they stab my eyes. I love you, but

there is dust in my teeth. Goodbye.”


In the fifth place, I flowered amid books and

other potted plants, a greenhouse. I was trimmed

and pruned and shaped. They clipped me into

a bird

changed my leaves for feathers

tore out my roots

taught my blood to run red.

I shall never land



4 thoughts on “The Bay Laurel and the Bird – a poem

  1. This is beautiful and so apt. I’ve just read it through three times.

    (I’ve always been more of a bird sort, myself. It’s the putting roots down that I’ve had to learn.)

    • 🙂 Thanks.
      I never really mastered the putting down roots part before I just gave up on it. I’ve lived in eight different cities in Texas, in ten different houses and two apartments, and I’m set to move again to find a new teaching position soon. I hated it for most of my life, but now I’ve been in the same place for two years, and I’m getting antsy. Partly because I dislike the climate here in the Rio Grande Valley; I think I could stick around a lot longer somewhere a bit further north. If I ever did settle somewhere permanently, I’d always be a travel fiend. xD

      • Ten houses and two apartments?! You must have some massive moving skills. I’ve done a decent bit of travel, but not nearly as much moving.

        I’m a bit the opposite of you, though — northern climate has got me antsy, brr. I’ve had enough six-month winters to last a lifetime.

      • I can fit all of my stuff into surprisingly few boxes, it’s true, but you’d think I’d have eventually learned to stop accumulating junk. No dice.

        Not sure I’d enjoy six full months of winter, but I do want more than six days of it. xD

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