Examining “Intrigue in the Trees,” by John Brehm

Cecily Parks’ collection stirred in me great interest in the way that poetry allows us to explore the relationship between humans and the earth. I read this poem in The Sun, a magazine of photographs, poems, and prose. “Intrigue in the Trees” shares some similarities with Cecily Parks work, as it focuses on the tension between humans and non-human nature, but Brehm seems to “side with” the earth rather than humans. He begins the poem by implying that if the earth were to extinguish humans, this act would be with good reason.  This is an interesting technique: the speaker in the poem retains a strong voice though the content suggests that his voice does not matter. The speaker assigns positive character to the trees and then admits that he cannot know what the trees are thinking, or if they’re thinking at all.

The same issue of the magazine featured an interview with Robin Wall Kimmer, a Native American botanist. Kimmer is confidant that plants have intelligence, and that if humans dismiss the notions of emotional and intellectual vitality that we see in ourselves, we can observe and learn from that intelligence. She also suggests that humans refuse to see plant intelligence because that refusal gives us ethical license to control or harm them. It seems that Brehm, a poet, is attempting to do what Kimmer, a scientist, encourages: to step outside of ideas about value or intelligence that apply only to his human form, and consider the trees as equal or superior to him.

Intrigue in the Trees
by John Brehm
Often I wonder:
Is the earth trying to get
rid of us, shake us off,
drown us, scorch us
to nothingness?
To save itself and all other
creatures slated for extinction?
The trees around here
seem friendly enough —
stoic, philosophically inclined
toward nonjudgmental
awareness and giving
in their branchings
perfect examples
of one thing becoming two
and remaining one —
but who knows
what they really feel?

Just last night I was walking
to my favorite cafe,
the Laughing Goat,
when I saw a flock of crows
circling raincloudy sky,
arguing, speaking strangely,
suddenly alight on
a maple tree, dozens of them
closing down their wings
like arrogant, ill-tempered
magistrates. Some kind
of consultation
was happening there,
some plan unfolding
(animals think we’re crazy
for thinking they can’t think),
and everybody was looking up,
looking up and watching.

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