Reviewed by Laurence Carr
The Spindle Tree Euonymous, published by Cyberwit, 2019; ISBN 978-93-89690-2
David Appelbaum, author, poet, and publisher of Codhill Press weaves a haunting (and sometimes haunted) journey through his new book of poetry, The Spindle Tree Euonymous, published by Cyberwit.
I hesitate to say that this book of interwoven poems reads like a novel. No book of poetry should be saddled with that weighty tag unless we consider Homer’s The Odyssey. However, Appelbaum’s new release presents an ongoing narrative with voices and points of view from a variety of beings, both physical and spiritual, that arc and create a whole through these fifty short, sometimes densely packed poems. Each poem is a stand alone work, to be enjoyed and meditated upon, but it is when the book is read from beginning to end (and this needn’t be in one sitting as the reader may need downtime to digest the layers) that the book offers its most vibrant connection. Read in sequence, the poems create a series of interior monologues and exterior dialogues among the inhabitants of a seemingly timeless garden. It’s a place where spirits, gods (and God?), helpmates, and a wide variety of plant life, such as: holly, witch hazel, moss, puffballs and sage, along with the non-organic: stone, thunder, and cliffs speak from deep within their “souls.” Even a garden troll appears and takes on a deeper, mythic persona, one that is darker than the commonplace fairyland variety in the lines: “Your command would have me/ watchman to a beggar/ whose eyes cannot be met.”
Many of the poems’ subjects, plants and other members of the natural world are described by our omniscient narrator who wears multiple masks, never really identifying itself, but has the knowledge of a proto-horticulturalist leaving a path of clues about its world. A good example is from the title poem, “The Spindle Tree” on page 24, which centers the book. The poem begins: “The trunk was bent./ It was winter when I straightened it./ I drove a stake into the earth/ and guyed it with wire.”
The poem continues: “That spindle of fire/ was the euonymus tree/ that would not root in your earth.”
A wide variety floral and natural “characters”, and I use this term in the true dramatic sense, reveal their identities and speak poignantly about their place in the cosmos and of their own existential angst and joy, such as “White Pine” who speaks: “I cannot call to you./ My voice is frozen,/ my lowest limbs stripped/ by hungry deer/ while my crown bends suppliantly/ under the burden.”
Prayers of different forms are placed throughout the book: matins (morning prayers); vespers (evening prayers); compline (night prayers) are spoken by the omniscient narrator, by individual beings, or perhaps shared as a Gregorian chant would be by the inhabitants in a medieval monastery adding depth and a resonance to the poems that proceed and follow. The reader should be prepared for multiple narrators that move effortlessly throughout the book.
As each of the lives speak on the page, they all seem to possess that deep, internal need to connect to us the readers, to each other and to a higher being. A moving example is in the lines from the poem/prayer “Matin” on page 18: “O father, if you could hear/ you would not turn aside/ to the stars in their fixed orbits/ but walk once more among us.”
There might be an occasional echo of Spoon River Anthology (Edward Lee Masters), but The Spindle Tree never becomes as “down-home” with prosaic lyricism as the former. It is not a shadowy cemetery where past lives ruminate about the past; this is a place that lives in the color and vibrancy of the present, but a present that we, in our everyday dawn-to-dusk lives, seldom take the time to visit. We rarely stop to listen to what Nature and her children have to say. It’s also interesting to note that many of the poems have an unsettling tone, not the benign beauty described in “English Country Garden.”
We’ve lost touch with beings such as the spindle tree, no longer hearing their messages or their whispered prayers. In this book, we’re given time (that timeless time that poetry is best at offering) with the garden’s spiritual guardians: the omniscient narrator, who might be Nature, Mother Nature, a floral or earth god, Pan or perhaps the old testament God (or all of these) along with a helpmate (and possible offspring), Dorn, who tends the garden like a “before the fall” Adam. A female shade-like character, Cam (short for Camilla), filters in an anima presence. And in between, a chorus of floral voices flourish.
The book leaps us into other connections page by page. A reader can find threads of Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, and Wiccan mythologies that live at peace and even feel supportive of one another, something sadly lacking in our own time. The book takes us down a garden path of the spirit, and one of the joys of The Spindle Tree is to read it slowly and to experience how these poems grow around us. It’s like visiting an Eden or perhaps even The Eden before everything went south. But a word of caution. The path is not always direct. And the topography can be uneven. As with every book of poetry, there will be pieces that you respond to more than others. You may feel lost in the bramble at times. But keep going. There are bowers along the way to take respite in and to meditate upon what you’ve read. And at the end when you emerge into the clearing, you will have made a journey that remains with you.