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Secrest Arboretum, My Tenth Year in Wooster

01 April, 2021: Secrest Arboretum, My Tenth Year in Wooster

Read a Poem

Secrest Arboretum,

My Tenth Year in Wooster

By Daniel Bourne

(March 28, 1998)

Siberian Larch, Tamarack, Norway
Spruce, Boxwood, Bourne.  Yes,
I too am a transplant, the journey
to Ohio, the tongue
of the root system tangling
as it learns a new word for soil.
The vowels between the skinny leaves
and pliant needles.  The consonants
like slight grooves in the bark.
Who knows the stories these trees
could have had?  The Siberian Larch,
its fate sunk down in Ohio
in 1915, just escaping the Russian Revolution,
the silent parade of men beneath its branches
with guns pointed at the backs
of other men.  The Norway Spruce
forming the great backbone of a house
destroyed by saturation bombing.  The Boxwood's 
deeply concentrated grain
hard to chop down, though its branches
will gladly sacrifice themselves
to the topiarist's delight.
The Tamarack brooding on the edge
of a cranberry bog.  —And Bourne?
One ancestor came in 1838 to Ohio
to build a canal, but left soon after
to farm in Illinois.  And his great-
great-grandson comes in 1988
to settle here, ten years later,
on the first green grass of late March
to look up in the branches
of another type of family,
its arms opened in welcome,
in blessing.
“Secrest Arboretum, My Tenth Year in Wooster” by Daniel Bourne, from I Have My Own Song for It: Modern Poems of Ohio. Eds. Elton Glaser and William Greenway. The University of Akron Press. 2003. Also from 85 Acres on Route 83. Ed. David Wiesenberg. Wooster Book Company. 1998. Used by permission of the author.
Daniel Bourne’s books of poetry include The Household Gods (Cleveland State University) and Where No One Spoke the Language (CustomWords), and his poems have appeared in Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, Boulevard, Guernica, Salmagundi, Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner, Quarterly West, Plume, and others. Recently he retired from teaching at The College of Wooster, though he continues as editor for Artful Dodge. Since 1980 he has also lived in Poland, including 1985-87 on a Fulbright for translating younger Polish poets, and most recently in 2018 and 2019 for an anthology of Baltic Coast poets. His translations of Polish poets appear in a number of journals, including Field, Colorado Review, Boulevard, and Prairie Schooner. Visit his website at

Write a Poem

Write a poem about an ancestor you never knew, real or imagined.

They are not mine
But rather my husband's grandfathers
Four and five generations up
I have acquired them though
because they inhabit my living room
They stare at us
When we are dancing
I wonder
-do they disapprove of our dancing?
-did they sit for their portraits in anticipation of the younger man's wedding?
-were they also dancers?
4/9/2021 9:50:12 AM

My family ties,
More like mud than blood.
Not strong, not clear, not life giving.
Family born into.
Family chosen.
One is dark.
The other is the light.
4/7/2021 10:24:25 AM


He knew he was safe
Upon sight of Lady Liberty in her vast harbor
She and he the same age
She welcomed him to his new home
Held his gaze and wonder
The way a mother should have held this young orphan

He grew tall and strong
Each dirty breath
In that godforsaken mill,
A gift to him
The soot and steam
Breathed life into him
Repaid him over and over
Fed he and his family

The fire from the belly of the furnace
Warmed his heart from the generations who knew him
As the patriarch I never knew
Passed of a broken heart-
After burying his own

Before anyone could bury him
He closed his eyes a final time
After watching Lady Liberty his final month with her and his last homeland's bicentennial

Born in Europe
Baptized in the optimism
Of the American Ideal
His dream was the American Dream
Eyes closed, he believed
He lived it
He cherished it
His risk-
Forever my reward
4/5/2021 7:35:38 PM

In the Schoolhouse

A summer bee bumbles through
the window as we sit, a one-room
Sunday school, in the schoolhouse

where my father stood
with his cousin-best-friend
and stared hard at the camera,
tough at ten, in the schoolhouse

where my grandfather learned
8th grade arithmetic, then left
to start his life as a farmer-carpenter
on land 500 yards from the schoolhouse

that his grandfather built–that august immigrant
who left his homeland just in time to fight
a civil war in his new one, who missed
the birth of my great-grandfather
while surviving the Battle of Nashville–
back in 1894 for $289.00, so that

generations later, I can sit
at a wooden desk, tracing the ancient
carvings of pocket knives, memorizing
“Beautiful Savior,” decorating egg carton
crosses with plastic posies
pilfered from the next-door neighbor
graves of my ancestors.
4/2/2021 10:15:27 AM

She like a spawning salmon
endured the treacherous journey
Only to find continued strife
An instinct to survive and hope
Discouraged but not crushed
Some glimmers of light
In the eyes of her Black mate
Or crown of her Black child
We are not so different
We endure
We survive
We Love
And we Hope.
4/2/2021 4:11:28 AM

thank you, Laurie K.
4/1/2021 7:15:24 PM

Glistening eyes
Her head was trying to stretch ends to meet
Cigarettes' smoke filtered through the lamp shade
The soft padding of tiny slippers approaching
The glisten turnes to glow
God bless and keep you safe
It's off to bed you go.
4/1/2021 6:55:19 PM

Laurie K
@Tovli, yes, you're submitting correctly!
4/1/2021 6:03:34 PM

Laurie K
@Sierra, the subscribe link is in the right-hand column near the top, where it says "Don't miss a post." Here's a copy of the link (it's kind of long):
4/1/2021 6:02:41 PM

Guys...I sure hope I'm submitting these comments and poems correctly!

for Secrest Arboretum--a lovely poem intertwined with memory, history and blended lands. The metaphor of tree branches is very effective and beautiful. A privilege to read and enjoy.
4/1/2021 5:41:07 PM

for Sierra--loved the descriptions of "the old man". beautifully expressed.
4/1/2021 5:30:41 PM


(Prose Poetry—April 1 poetry prompt: Write a poem about an ancestor you never knew, real or imagined.)

The elders called my father an artist. Inventive, polite; good to his mother. Married—home-town wedding; an acceptable number of kids in the right time-span. They described hazel, twinkling eyes as if that was all that mattered about him.

He became a barber because he liked gossip. He lived to repair antique weapons, or annotate the history of long-rifles used in the Civil War. A real man’s man. If there was a grave, I’d expect to smell blue steel and W-D40 in the grass instead of Old Spice, talc and Bay-Rum. Visitors might leave little screw-drivers and pocket knives behind as a token of affection stimulating memory for those who’d forgotten he’d lived. That’s how I’d find his grave (if he had one)—the pungent scent of wet steel beckoning; articles of repair disappearing like seed into the clay soil.

I don’t resemble him one bit. Not even his shadow. Every single day, since his death I’ve slapped this disclosure of Dad being a stranger against the air like throwing mud on a solid wall—you know, what sticks matters? I can’t imagine his face; never knew him. So, I make things up and believes every story I invent. It’s like shooting a pellet gun into a crowd as a way of filling a void.

This morning, just as the last snow-storm filled my garden, I realized I forgot to acknowledge the day my father died. It was not that long ago—barely a decade. What reason would there be to forget his death? Probably the same reason not to attend his funeral. Funeral crowds bring foreign bouquets and blank faces. Besides, there was no grave left behind to visit later on. Bad planning you might say. There might be a tree growing off to the side, roots tapping their toes as if trying to find a pulse where life should begin not end.

Next year, just as the winter begins to wind down, I’ll fill a little jar with tiny screws, bolts and other twisting hardware designed to hold things together. I’ll spray the contents with an ample amount of WD-40, seal the jar and coat the outside with Bay-Rum. I’ll make the winter into a barber shop without the wait, without the red and white chairs. I’ll find a pile of grass, even if the world is still frozen. That’s what off-green spray-paint is for. I’ll make the entire world into Dad. After all, everyone has their artistic medium. Make it work; make it your own, make it up if you have to--Dad’s unwritten epitaph.

Just when flowers are tired of living in frozen dirt, I’ll make our father step from his grave, wherever it is. It will be like meeting him for the first time. I’ll say: "That was your grave—something I made, a little jar just for you."

Enjoy it.
You smell from air, mechanics and hidden, oily rags.

I’ll remember the whole world at once,
the elders, their stories of Dad’s twinkling eyes.
I’ll say: "This time, next year."

No one will know. No one will hear. No one is left to remember.

Soon, there’ll be no reason to speak;
No time to say "goodbye".

© Tovli 2021
4/1/2021 5:28:39 PM

Sierra Polsinelli
4/1/2021 5:15:12 PM

He was an old man
Even his children
called him that.
The old man.
The old man with a young wife.

A sad man,
lost in black and white,
in shades of gray.
His emotions, also that way.
He had a Great Love,
and she was gone.
Lonely but never alone, he wandered the beaches,
wrote poems,
wrote opinions,
read his Danish poetry to my mother, translating as he read.

Large hands, his hands were large, wrinkled,
his knuckles oversized.
His mason's hands had built heat for homes and a model clipper ship.

He was an old man,
that held me on his knee, his large hands wrapped around me.

He was an old man
with sad eyes, which saw no color.

They loved and feared him.
He was quiet.
He was hard to fathom.

He was an old man,
and he lost his great mind.
It left him slowly,
one thought at a time.

In the end, he was as alone, as he was lonely.

He was Thor
4/1/2021 4:49:11 PM

Laurie K
Tovli, yes, you may. It's also great to comment on the poems, too, like today's commenters have.
4/1/2021 3:26:36 PM

Doc Janning
Ready, set, GO!
4/1/2021 2:59:08 PM

Susan Grimm
I kept reading it as Secret Arboretum which was fun, too.
4/1/2021 2:03:23 PM

Tovli Simiryan
Is it ok to post poems here for the writing prompt?
4/1/2021 2:01:29 PM

Janice Justice
4/1/2021 12:59:04 PM

Enjambment at its best! Nice work Dan. You and the Secrest are Ohio treasures, wherever you came from.
4/1/2021 12:46:21 PM

Mary M Chadbourne
This piece accomplishes in precision and poetic scale what a book I am reading does in hundreds of pages ("The Overstory," by Richard Powers). Daniel, it is simply beautiful, a treasure.
4/1/2021 11:44:39 AM

A family tree rooted in natural trees is so lovely.
4/1/2021 10:50:21 AM

kathy krupitzer
so easy to visualize and move through time and space. Thank you.
4/1/2021 10:46:58 AM

Ted Dziewanowski
Bourne - a hard bark as the ash tree but touching as the willow.
4/1/2021 10:11:35 AM

Love "The consonants/ like slight grooves in the bark."
4/1/2021 9:50:03 AM

READ + WRITE: 30 Days of Poetry is a collaboration between Cuyahoga County Public Library and poet Diane Kendig. Our thanks go to Diane and the poets of Northeast Ohio who allowed us to share their poetry.