Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
Paris, France
December 31
Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
A reader, a writer, a fingernail biter, a cat person, a traveller, a cookie inhaler, an immigrant, a dreamer. …And now, self-employed! If you like my blog and if you're looking for sparkling writing, painstaking proofreading, nimble French-English translation, or personalized travel planning, feel free to check out


Alysa Salzberg's Links

AUGUST 5, 2012 3:15PM

Rough to the touch

Rate: 23 Flag


Dwarfed by soaring sequoias in Muir Woods 


Imagine the tree*

that I could touch

without fear

its rough



with insects,

my skin ready

for the feel

of its lines and mine


afterwards no red reaction on my arms.

I've seen trees

like things out of dreams:

on a hill near Avignon,

a Van Gogh vision of purple-blue swirled bark

sinuously sprouting

from the sidewalk in front of a cheap, bleak hotel,

connecting all passersby to Vincent's inner world,

jubilantly crying out, "It's real!",

Or the famed redwood residents of Muir Woods,

one of whom I stood inside

for a few



waiting to feel something holy I knew was there,

and almost detecting it.

I have childhood memories of trees with bark like paper scrolls

to unwind and write stories upon

- but I never did, to my recollection.

There have also been

weeping willows,

gracefully touching their branches to water I love:

a lake in Florida,

the Seine;

I can only envision standing underneath them.

The trees outside our front window

may as well be made of metal:

for me they are bird perches and weathervanes.

One in the back of our building

blooms into violet flowers every spring,

as if lifting up bouquets to us apartment-dwellers,

who spend so much time far from the flowers on the ground.

I have never touched this benevolent being.

The tree

that I can touch

without fear,

is only 

what's left after the tree’s death:

chairs and tables,

sculptures in wood.

Books are the trees I’m closest to.

I inhale their odor with the same exhilaration

that many feel when they’re lost in nature.

(When lost in nature, I only feel lost.)

My hands caress pages

more trustingly than they’ll ever touch leaves.

Perhaps I inspire fear in trees:

a barbaric queen sitting atop a throne of their remains.


I didn't expect to write today.  When I got onto OS, though, the title of a post by the incredibly eloquent nilesite caught my eye - and I guess my imagination.  Suddenly, I just wanted to get these lines out.  *I haven't read nilesite's post yet, so I have no idea how what I've written here relates to what she's written - and I hope there's no similarity beyond my poem's first line, which is an homage to her  post's title, because she could lick me a million times over if our writing were compared side by side.  Nilesite's post is apparently in answer to an open call by libbyliberalnyc.  I love the idea and I want to thank her and nilesite for the incidental inspiration. 

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
Thank you for inspiring me, nilesite and libby!

This is stunning. I like the (completely bizarre) image of you atop a throne of skullls.R
So beautiful...unbelievably well written by one so young!
You and Nilesite are really doing great writing re: trees. incidental inspiration is beautiful stuff. Terrific poem, Alysa. I want to read it again asap.
The picture of Muir Woods grabbed was a haven for me back in 1975 when I lived in Mill Valley...thanks for this.
gosh, alysa, your humility doesn't fly with me anymore.
it never really did as you know.
My animal abusing? Sti.l pending. I have been screaming and wailing in utter misery at this beast all day. He will not stop eating my stuff.
Goddammit I wish I was a nature mystic. A lot of trees out the window I could take solace with.
Not my luck, either: I am not so much ‘lost’ as unaffected. Unless the nature is really dramatic.

The tree
that I could touch
without fear,
is only
what's left after the tree’s death:
chairs and tables,
sculptures in wood.
Books are the trees I’m closest to.

And the calm from books. …yes…The exit from individuality, taken up into the Enchanted Forest of the mind.
Ahhhh, Muir and magical trees. Alive but timeless in our presence, noting time with passing of leaves and flowers and timeless again when transformed to books and tables. For now.
I saw a spectacular Van Gogh Alive! exhibit at the Discovery museum here, with digital enlargements of his works, spanning and transversing walls. Oh, do his trees come alive, his clouds, his wheat, his windmills, his cherry blossoms.
........(¯`v´¯) (¯`v´¯)
............... *•.¸.•* ♥⋆★•❥ Thanx & Blessings(ツ) & ♥ L☼√Ξ ☼ ♥
⋆───★•❥ ☼ .¸¸.•*`*•.♥ (ˆ◡ˆ) ♥⋯ ❤ ⋯ ★(ˆ◡ˆ) ♥⋯ ❤ ⋯ ★R
I'm glad you DID write. Lovely!
As someone who I think claimed to be new to poetry, you've certainly taken to it--or maybe it to you. In any event, you're a natural. This was terrific. I loved the ending.
Yes, I can tell you were truly inspired. Great poem. And I love how you relate trees to Books.
This is so dense and soaring--as befits the subject matter! Love the lines esp. referring to Van Gogh:

"a Van Gogh vision of purple-blue swirled bark

sinuously sprouting

from the sidewalk in front of a cheap, bleak hotel,

connecting all passersby to Vincent's inner world,

jubilantly crying out, "It's real!"
Your muse was running strong this day!
V. Corso – Thank you so much. I’m glad you liked the image of me on the throne of skulls – in the end, I decided to change it to make it a little clearer and also for the sound….But I kind of miss it….

Dianne – Thanks! And thanks also for calling me “young”….

fernsy – I loved nilesite’s poem, and libbyliberalnyc’s post launching the OC has some great photographs. “ incidental inspiration is beautiful stuff.’’ – you said it ; I love when that happens !

Rob – I’m glad you like the photo. It was so hard to take pictures in Muir woods that properly convey the place. I don’t think it’s possible, I guess. I’m glad this one got you reminiscing. It really is a beautiful spot on this earth.

James – I found a book in trees; you found a forest in books. I love it. As for Georgie, I wish I had some advice for you about his eating everything. With a cat, you can often put lemon juice or vinegar on something you don’t want them to chew, but dogs don’t have the same rules, and I don’t know, either, if those techniques would be dangerous. But a Google search may be in order. If I talk to my mom the vet tech (she’s quite elusive these days) I’ll ask if she has any advice for you. Good luck.

Oryoki – That exhibit sounds wonderful. I wish it would come here! When I was in Philadelphia in March, I got to see the Van Gogh: Up Close exhibit, which featured close-up views of nature. It was lovely and passionate, as any Van Gogh experience should be. But now I know it wasn’t enough – I want the one you saw to be somewhere when I’m there!!!

Algis – Thanks and blessings to YOU – and may I say, I much prefer this artwork to the nearly naked lady? : - )

Jennifer – Thank you so much! I don’t know if I love it, but it was definitely cathartic. I’m always so disappointed that I can’t completely connect to nature.

jlsathre – Your words do me an enormous honor- thank you! I’ve been writing poetry since before I can remember, but I just don’t feel like I’m very good at it. It comes from the heart, though, and that’s why I continue to write it – it would be wrong to just stop it up. But there are so many millions of poets far more talented than I am – including many right here on OS.

trilogy – Thank you. This poem really did just hit me. The idea of books being my closest relationship to trees was the first thing that came to mind.

dirndl skirt – Thanks! That is one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had with a tree. I just couldn’t believe that something like it really existed – it looked exactly like a tree in one of Van Gogh’s paintings. I was astonished. I took a picture of it, but it was before the days of digital cameras, so I have no idea where it is at the moment, unfortunately….
JD -Thank you for coming by, oh great poet! Yes, the Muse definitely got going on this topic for some reason!
This is lovely, Alyes. Are you really afraid to touch living trees?
Thanks Matt! I'm not afraid, just very wary, due to my arachnophobia and severe allergies (especially to pine trees). Sadly, whenever I'm close to trees, I usually think about how many spiders are on them, and if those spiders can get on me. I don't really like any of the other bugs that trees harbor, either. I realize that's nature, and these critters definitely deserve to be there, but much as I love and appreciate trees, that's why you'll never see me hugging one.
Very nice poem. Settings and mention of the artists lend a special touch. Thank you.

I'm on my way to your inspirers works.
Brilliant write Alysa
the poem travels to interesting places and does not shy from the odd byways that others do not travel on.
Really enjoyed this!
I am honored just to be mentioned here in such a thoughtful and thought provoking work. /R, of course!
And so the circle spins, round and round! I love the poem, Alyssa, and the explanatory note does not matter - it just enhances! I too have been inspired by a title - one was Make It So, by Michelle Coulter. I had to go at it - as you did. But your story - oooh..the trees! The huge, white-paper droppings of the Sycamore, the White Birch. I love them so, and have many items of furniture made of it, and - twigs. I once actually lived - within the Redwood Forest. I lived there for quite some time, actually. Even married there, along the rocky shores of the Van Duzen river, waaaay up near the border of Cally and Oregon, Carlotta. It's certainly off the beaten track, and your poem - encompasses aaaall that, and more. A total emotional 'history' of the entropy of -- beloved trees. Nice work, geel!! Rrr!
I feel like I just had an uplifting walk outside.
Beautiful! Took me back to the Redwoods in northern CA, standing inside one, in awe of their PRESENCE.
I am really relating to this, Alysa. I always admired trees for their stature, their predictability, their atmospheric function, and, of course, their beauty. I didn't fear them at all until I moved to Atlanta. They now represent potential for damage and death. Full circle.

Allergies suck.
Very well said. :D I love the magic of Muir Woods.
Ponderosa pines smell like chocolate and strawberry ice cream. Just saying.
Libbyliberalnc's open call has inspired many beautiful posts, one of which is definitely yours. I'm glad you decided to write when you did. Very lovely.
Thanks for reading, and for your comments, everyone. I really appreciate them and am sorry I can't respond to those who've commented recently, individually. might just have found a way to convince me to get close to a tree.....
[r] Alysa, getting here belatedly, but am so blown away by the poem and the photo image is wonderful. I remember the thrill of Muir Woods myself!

Brilliant sensibility with so many delicious and unexpected insights! Especially love your query at the end if trees are afraid of you. Wow. Thank you for sharing this!!! best, libby