The Tuscan Cypress and Van Gogh
I. THE VERY WORD CYPRESS
Into English, from Greek and/or Latin.
Where from there? Hebrew “gopher”: Noah’s tree,
sweet and long-lived? Or, along other trails:
“camphor”? ; “brush”? Still what’s in a name? Different
species vie. Same name” “Monterey cypress.”
Other names: China’s five varieties.
No names for cypresses go back far enough.
Chums, the cypresses and the Etruscans
first traveled through Iran and Syria;
then the island called after them, Cyprus.
They settled at last in self-named Tuscany.
Trees of death encircling cemeteries,
thin straight-down roots respectful of tombstones,
the very caskets made from their sweet wood.
Though survivors too, living centuries,
staying green year-round, deflecting bad winds,
life’s guardians via its countless forms of
boundaries, Stonehenge-like telling of
folk-tales and for assorted church doings,
heat-providers with thick fuel even when
excavated from long-past extinctions.
IV. R.L. STEVENSON, VAN GOGH
How about the trees in themselves? R.L.
Stevenson flubbed. His title characters
in “Cypresses” hark back three millenia
to the Etruscans, At least, Van Gogh skipped
God, and didn’t look on them as upside down
humanity. They’re not now even real
trees. Mostly at night, grouped or solitary,
pulsating, emitting warmth and feeling,
transgressing barriers between the senses.
V. ALAS, POOR TUSCAN CYPRESS
“This wondrous mysterious tree has…,”
yes, the Tuscan cypress has a fungal canker.
Goodbye too to its black ash cousin, ground into
by the emerald bore. Their last century.
Oh to be a cockroach or a bedbug,
likely several more extinctions to go.
Wrong track? Rebaptize, waiting in the wings,
the canker-immune Bolgheri cypress?
And there are other hues of ashes. Don’t
say die. Allow, green, blue, and white a chance.
Ecosystems live, woodpeckers change tastes.
VI. GEORGE G. MALLORY
Wrong track bis! Alas, beloved Vincent!
Stars galore, cypresses a gogo, fields.
Where would Vincent be otherwise, or we?
No, another flag! Those themes were just aids,
drawing him on, ways to share, soothe, recount
a message he didn’t quite know himself,
the pulpit not having worked out at all…
For fun! Let George G. Mallory(Everest fame)
play the short-tempered Vincent Van Gogh.
(By one year they lived the same lifetime!)
“Why do you paint stars and trees so often?”
“Because they’re there!”