Isi Unikowski: Reading ‘Japanese Maple’ by Clive James

Reading “Japanese Maple” by Clive James, West Basin, 28 November 2019

How you dazzled us, old chum, with the colour of that tree!
I look up from the page: that light you said you’re exiled from,
that layered frieze
settles on the lake’s edge. Dinghies chip at the glaze upon
its surface from which, like cedillas, swans hang and are gone.

Nothing gains by contrast in such abundance, all’s elect.
Your tree’s privilege was vouchsafed by a paltry climate
where its effect
had to be constructed; its tiny trunk, every floret,
(in a pot? in the ground?—you never said) had to divot

off days of whetstone grey, giving shape to separation
—from the breeze in she-oaks here, and there from time still wanted—
a serration,
a gentle clarity, this if nothing else: that, wintered
out, tired as you were, you still saw the tree as form, flaunted

in masculine, full rhyme, metered syllabics, the real ken.
Poetry makes even less happen these days than before,
nought to reckon
by; still—a world worth staying alive for, an embrace formed
by ten tiny leaves (except in the third line, only four).

Isi Unikowski

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