After years of writing poetry
and struggling to break free,
I found the perfect metaphor
for everything I want to be.
It came to me by accident
as good things often do
and my task now, as a poet,
is to tell the tale to you.
I was feeling tired and beaten,
worn-out and weary to the bone.
I hadn’t left the house in days,
shut off from the world, alone.
When something deep inside me said,
“That’s enough! Get out of bed!
Stop feeling sorry for yourself
or you’re as good as dead!”
After being buried in despair so long,
I wondered from where this voice had risen.
It was like a visit from a long-lost friend
after many hopeless years in prison.
So I opened up the dusty curtains
and let the bright sunlight flood in.
And as every poet will attest –
when one looks out, one looks within.
The street outside was bustling.
Lovers laughed and children played.
And I couldn’t help but realize
how far from life I’d strayed.
My world seemed so dark and small
next to the one I saw outside.
In a moment, I felt all I’d lost.
The dam broke and I cried.
I knew I had to find a way
to purge this sadness from my soul,
dust myself off, rejoin the living,
and make my fractured spirit whole.
So I splashed my face and went outside.
It was a beautiful, windy day
but my heart ached with melancholy
that just would not go away.
I walked and walked for hours
like a tortured, restless ghost
for when we confront our demons,
that’s when they attack the most.
I don’t know how much time had passed
when I reached the base of a hill.
Determined to walk the pain away,
I pressed on further still.
I have always loved to climb
because of how it clears the mind
but I had no peace within that day
so what peace could I hope to find?
I remembered an old line I heard once
and it rang in my ears from the start . . .
“You won’t find your heart in a temple
if there’s no temple in your heart.”
Faith has never been easy for me.
Nature has always been my church.
I didn’t know what I was looking for.
I only knew I had to search.
I climbed until my muscles ached,
not even sure what I was proving
or what I was running to or from.
I just had to keep on moving.
I was thoroughly exhausted
when I finally reached the top
but I saw a taller hill beyond
and my soul wouldn’t let me stop.
I suppose I was tired of quitting,
of feeling beaten, small and weak.
I couldn’t let myself give up
until I reached the highest peak.
These were not just hills.
They were everything I’d ever tried.
They were every half-accomplished goal
begging fulfillment, deep inside.
Many of my tears, that day,
mingled with the dusty soil.
The hills had come to represent
a lifetime’s travail and toil.
I cried for all the love I’d lost
and for all the wasted years.
I cried for every broken dream
on this, my trail of tears.
I finally reached the second peak,
so high, I felt like I was flying
or I could reach up and touch heaven.
The howling wind was like God sighing.
I was now the highest living thing
but for the tips of the tallest trees,
pitching and swaying magnificently
in the gentle Autumn breeze.
The stars were beginning to twinkle
as the fiery sun set in the west.
I laid down in a bed of leaves
to grant myself some rest.
And when I looked up to the sky
framed by the towering trees,
a strange quiet filled my soul
and this thought came to me . . .
The trees, though firmly rooted,
never stop reaching for the sky.
They don’t worry about what falls away
or how fast the years pass by.
They don’t complain about the weather
or struggle against ferocious winds
yet they’re still standing proudly
when the calm returns again.
This is a very, very old idea.
It surely did not begin with me.
A poet once said she’d never see
a poem as lovely as a tree.
And I hate to repeat an old cliche
but truth always stays the same
though it comes from many places
and travels under many names.
I’d heard this philosophy so often,
I considered it “nickel and dime”
but on this strange and soulful day,
it was like I’d heard it the first time.
A poet lives on metaphors.
They’re his lifeblood, you see.
So I was happy to truly discover
the ancient lesson of the tree.
To stop fighting and agree with life
and whatever it happens to bring
for a soul tormented by loss and pain
can never learn to dance or sing.
To have a strong foundation
while always reaching out.
To keep growing, no matter what.
That’s what life’s about.
These strong and noble giants
whispered a message for me to keep
and under their sheltering canopy,
I slowly drifted off to sleep.
I awoke to a bright, new morning
and made my way back down the hill
and everywhere a tear had fallen,
a flower stood, serene and still.
I looked back up to the hilltop once
to that place where every tree’s a poem,
said thank you, then turned and smiled
and, peacefully, headed home.
~ Mark Rickerby
Painting credit – Forest Stars by Anna Sokolova