Like fingers flicking over books with eczema
(ancient books with leather bindings, in the main),
the car lights seem to hesitate on each
erect or leaning London plane -
the odd one leaning, reeling maybe, from the weight
of all that learning locked inside.
The spines, so smudged with soot
and halogen, betray no titles. Patched
and scaly sages, they remind us
of the boundaries that nature draws
round vision, they and those
frail sapling paperbacks,
who here and there have found a home
in what were narrow spaces, they
and the odd weighty tome
that squeezed in horizontally,
too tall to stand upright.
Behind them, sealed in pathless darkness,
a great wood stretches to infinity,
but these sad London planes,
each one an interface between the unknown
and ourselves, our world
and that opacity - the border guards,
as we might like to think of them,
denying or permitting access to
that darkling world of learning
to their rear. Could we but take one down
and open it like those at home,
a world might open in its turn:
horizons we could not have guessed,
bright looms of morning light.
They draw up wisdom from the soil,
absorb it from the air.
They store it in the grain.
and feed it to the millipedes
that live beneath the bark.
The spiders spin it in their webs;
you hear it in the groans
and creaks, the timbre of each voice. It speaks
a thousand languages, and scribes the wood
with arcane signs like charged Rosetta Stones.
If we could prise the boards apart
and cut the uncut leaves,
achieve for them what still eludes...
Unqualified transparency - would not that form
the perfect attribute for any London plane?
A tree entirely open to the gaze,
complete with soundtrack, growth and rending,
a universe once worlds away, at home in ours,
a world with all its life and lives intact,
decay and growth and mini beasts;
the struggle for survival and the end in death,
tides that rise, turn, fall and vanish out of sight,
the laughter and the tears of life that wills to live.
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