The poems in Justin Evans‘ collection Town for the Trees (Foothills Publishing 2011) are poems of connection and transition. They raise key questions and, by the time we are through reading the poems, the lines between these two phenomena feel blurred. Are they really separate experiences? Isn’t connection transition and transition, connection?
The poems examine the connections between the poet and the natural environment in which he operates, the connections between a community and the natural environment surrounding it and the human connections between individual members of that community.
On a clear night I could read
the stars like Braille, each point
of light piercing the tips of my fingers,
splitting them like cord wood.
(What I Knew As A Child)
The town gathered like a chorus
to sing the flood waters back, keep the world
(Singing Back the River)
Evans’ language is plain and direct, yet suffused with emotion and the voice of memory. These poems are accessible in the best sense of the word – friendly to the grasp on the surface, but with an underlying complexity of thought and feeling. These poems ask where we belong.
I look for a space where I can fit
the perfect constellation of your eyes
into the vast cupboard of night.
(A Season Apart)
They also examine transitions – those places in space and time where lines become blurred. The moments of ambiguity between night and day; between ground and sky; animal and vegetable, between humanity and the raw earth itself. There is often a struggle associated with the moment of transition, with the old reluctant to leave the stage, as if attempting to arrest time itself; and the new pushing to take it over, as if actively reaching for the future.
Low to the East, the crescent moon
is a fracture of sky, outpaced
by the morning star’s rise
It struggles to stay ahead of the sun
as morning light grows, eating away
at its pale circumference.
The movement of time is of particular interest in these poems. The speed at which time moves. The fluidity of the moment when the present becomes the past, or the future becomes the present.
The past is a thief
escaping on the wings of blackbirds.
The collection holds a clock pulse, a heartbeat, a sense of that unchanging cycle of life which is nonetheless always changing. Oscillating between birth and growth, innocence and age, decay and death – and sometimes violent death. Running steadily through the collection, the river becomes a metaphor for continuity and spiritual nourishment:
In the morning when I rise with daylight
the trees will no longer be animal
But the water, this small river, will be the same.
(Lower Sheep Creek)
The Utah town of Springville is very specifically depicted in this collection, its topography carefully named, and its inhabitants and customs closely described. Yet – as we hope for in all art – the particular points to the general and, in all its specificity, Springville, UT becomes to us Anytown, The World – a particular place on this earth where people we recognize are born, live, despair, love and die.
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