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Native Trees by W. S. Merwin

March 27, 1988

Neither my father nor my mother knew the names of the trees where I was born what is that I asked and my father and mother did not hear they did not look where I pointed surfaces of furniture held the attention of their fingers and across the room they could watch walls they had forgotten where there were no questions no voices and no shade

Were there trees where they were children where I had not been I asked were there trees in those places where my father and my mother were born and in that time did my father and my mother see them and when they said yes it meant they did not remember What were they I asked what were they but both my father and my mother said they never knew

From "The Rain in the Trees" (Alfred A. Knopf: $16.95, cloth; $8.95, paper; 80 pp.). Merwin, born in New York in 1927, is the author of a dozen books of poetry and a past winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. He is also accomplished as a translator: In 1968, he won the P.E.N. Translation Prize. Merwin lives in Hawaii where native peoples and languages as well as native flora and fauna have suffered huge losses. A dominant theme in his more recent work is the destruction--especially in Oceania--of the old by the new and of the native by the foreign.

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