In the latest issue:

In Quarantine

Erin Maglaque

Après Brexit

Ferdinand Mount

Short Cuts: Springtime for Donald

David Bromwich

Meetings with their Gods

Claire Hall

‘Generation Left’

William Davies

At the North Miami Museum: Alice Paalen Rahon

Mary Ann Caws

Buchan’s Banter

Christopher Tayler

‘American Dirt’

Christian Lorentzen

Fiction and the Age of Lies

Colin Burrow

In Lahore

Tariq Ali

GOD HATES YOUR FEELINGS

James Lasdun

Rereading Bowen

Tessa Hadley

At the Corner House

Rosemary Hill

William Gibson

Thomas Jones

Poem: ‘Murph & Me’

August Kleinzahler

The Stud File

Kevin Brazil

John Boorman’s Quiet Ending

David Thomson

In Shanghai: The West Bund Museum

John-Paul Stonard

Diary: The Deborah Orr I Knew

Jenny Turner

The Word from Wuhan

Wang Xiuying

Close
Close

Mid-October, our Blackjack oak
Peppers the tar-paper roof with its ripened acorns;
Day and night, two weeks of it, Priapic
Scattershot clattering down
With every gust of wind from the mountain;
I stare outside. Impossible to sleep, think, work;

Into my mind a memory comes:
Another oak, the King Charles oak
That stood in our garden at home;
Survivor of summer lightning and winter storms,
The humps on its thick trunk bulging
Like muscles under the weight of its limbs.

One year half the buds withered
Before they’d opened. The rest stayed sickly yellow.
Oak-apples swelled on the twigs. Ringed ears of fungus
Sprouted from the scar of a lopped-off branch.
‘Oxblood,’ the tree-doctor said,
And showed you where to dig it in.

The blood was granular, rich-smelling, moist, its crimson
Concentrated, masquerading as black:
I fingered it with a boy’s
Professional interest in new substances:
Elixir of mud and fire; alchemic cack ...
We dug it into the sloping lawn,

And waited – three years, four years,
Bad years, lithium years; lost jobs and breakdowns;
Your children’s serial adolescence;
Once in a twilit hospital room
We watched your sleeping body on the bed;
Trespassers in the kingdom of the dead,

Bearing our modest gifts like ransom ...
And then one spring the buds came strong again,
Lobed sprigs bubbling a haze, and like the stick
That blossomed when it stirred Medea’s potion,
The tree burst into leaf so thick
Its namesake could have hidden in its crown

All summer from his father’s killers.
And I think of you now in your office, flourishing,
Bullish again, imperious, firing commands,
The silver claw-grip pencil firm in your hands,
Work warding off regret, age, doubt,
Catastrophe that stalks you through your friends,

Though if it should bring its regicidal axe
Against your neck, I think the cut would show
Not flesh but tree-rings circling back to zero,
And I wonder as I listen to this oak’s
Triumphal drum, what sorceress filled your veins,
And who was the sacrificial ox.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences