Breughel

By Michael Collier b. 1953 Michael Collier
The lump on his neck that no collar
could hide, and the charity of his presence   
there in the neighborhood each fall,
door-to-door, standing in the swept porches,   
waiting for the housewives to answer.

The ugly, pitiable treeman, reddish and leathery   
from the sun. His baseball cap pulled tight   
over his head, the visor stiff as a beaver’s tail.
Year after year, the bowsaw with its wide   
teeth and the long-handled toppers were all

that announced his trade. And standing on the porch   
he advised nothing, though he coughed and hacked,
covering his mouth with his sap-blackened fist
and waited for the infrequent yes that sent him
up the trunk and into the solid lap of the branches,

where he clipped and sawed the bony leafless rigging   
until the tree, all torso—lung and heart, ribs   
and hips and shoulders—, stood like a knotted   
goblet in the yard, a figure, as in allegory,
of his own stunted self, rooted, alive.

My mother tried hard to convince us we were all   
children of God and that the sick and maimed, the poor,   
were creatures born to special destinies so unique   
we could not understand. But who could understand   
pain’s redemptiveness and how it rarely seemed

to translate into grace. The poor were always poor,   
the sick, sick—just as the treeman’s goiter
did not respond to treatment, inscrutable, part
of God’s plan, part of the unlovely element of love:   
the humbling, the pity, the scar of violence—

a craving too frightening to name, or too tender,
the way the treeman bundled the trimmings in twine   
and hauled them to the alley. And as if he counted it
his real work, leaned against the fence and with his fingers   
picked the dogged sap from the blade and with a file sharpened the teeth.

Michael Collier, “Breughel” from The Neighbor (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Michael Collier. Used by permission of the author.

Source: Poetry (November 1992).

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This poem originally appeared in the November 1992 issue of Poetry magazine

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November 1992
 Michael  Collier

Biography

Michael Collier was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1953. He studied with William Meredith as an undergraduate at Connecticut College, and earned his MFA at the University of Arizona. Poet laureate of Maryland from 2001-2004, Collier is also the director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Maryland. His books of poetry include The Clasp and Other Poems (1986), The . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Trees & Flowers, Relationships, Home Life, Nature, Activities, The Body, Living, Health & Illness, Jobs & Working

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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