Ficus: A Strangler’s Life (Strangler Fig)

Back then, the bay—a fired field,
An oaked and mangroved selvedge,
A threshold and a hearth, a sacred
Swamp, a river that spoke
With its mouth full of eels, a beach,
A feast, a forest of seasons, a farm
Put under cultivations by the wisdom
The women and the men learned here,
A garden that grew boys into men
And time into a library of light—
Back then, when it fell from the sky
And grew its people strong, long
Centuries before the West had
Dreamed of fields of wheat, the bay
Was already a garden, which had hardly
Heard of figs. But come here in two
Hundred years, and “fig” may be
All the bay will have to say.
                        The people who landed
Here in this old and husbanded world,
And called it new, came from copses,
From hedgerows and woods and fall
And winter and spring, and wanting
Shade for summer, they found it under
Figs and brought them south to parasol
The shore.
              And like all of us to whom
A chance and a place are given, the figs
Wanted more. Everything would almost
Do the trick. They wanted from the start
To fell the fallen sky and rain
A forest down.
                        And up along the creek
That watered this garden and waters it
Still, two figs of different temper, two
Figs of foreign tongue—one fig that
Loves the sandstone; one fig that loves
The rain—two figs have talked their way
Into a tale that’s ages old and told on
The pages of a paperbark that may have
Stood here telling when the Enlightenment,
In all its foetid and parvenu pomp, dropped
Anchor in the bay.
             Twenty-five years ago or so two figs
Fell out of heaven’s mouth (or arse)
And moved into the upper stories
Of the telling tree and slowly made
A garden there, a plot in which, if they
Survive her, the landlady dies. Through
All these years and bats and suns and storms,
Two figs sat in a melaleuca attic and ate the sky
They came in with; they lived on memes
 And code and IOUs and later sent down
Abseiling roots and when they touched
Earth, began to grow; two figs since then
Have eaten heir host out of house and dishevelled
Antique home. But see how, even in her ending,
She begins again! She puts out bloom and leaf,
And she’ll go on trying to put on years, until
They stop her, and then she won’t.
              We call her the host, but what choice
Did she have? What choice, the first gardeners
Here? What choice, in the end, any of us,
But the end, and how we get there? History
Arrives with death in its pocket; sooner or
Later, it shows; and who we are is how we make
Our living worthy, while we wait, of what
We’re dealt. In between, the years, the days.
The life we get may not always be our own.
And to give life, giving life! The height of
Love is the height of this hybrid canopy:
In which the end, though still far off, is written—
A beautiful death, a metamorphosis—in three
Tongues lost on each other all at once.
                                                  And the figs:
Who can blame them? Such wanton, patient
Longing for life, such lust and pluck, and what
A wild way to come to be.
                                     Read the way a garden
Reads, looked at outside time and inside place,
There’s nothing doing here but poetry,
That slow green fire, in which even death
Is dying to begin again.

 

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