by Phyllis Mannan


The shore pine snag stands, alive

and itself, beyond time.


Trunk and stripped limbs fired ocher

and carnelian against a fading


sky, it reaches with simple dignity

toward the ether. Phantoms roost


in its contorted branches or mingle

with broken twigs in the dark duff.


How tender the kinship between

this tree and its spirits, the familiarity


with which the almost-birds fit

their perches. The birds becoming


branches, branches becoming birds

held in the dimming light—the sky,


the tree, and the shadow birds one,

the tree gathering its spirits like cotton.


From Phyllis:

I chose to write in response to Sue Hutchins’ painting “We Are One” because of its striking tree shape, mysterious shadow forms, and brilliant sunset colors firing the tree’s trunk. As I spent more time with the piece, I also discovered more subtle qualities: the vitality in the tree, which seems alive though it is dead, and the spiritual relationship between the tree and its shadowy forms. The more time one spends with a work of art, the more one sees in it. And what one sees is directly influenced by one’s experience. As an older person, I felt drawn to what the tree could tell me about aging. Perhaps I also saw a stronger relationship between the tree and its spirits than I would have seen earlier.


The poem and image are part of the Hoffman Center Word and Image Event where artists and authors are paired to reflect on each other’s work. Painting by Sue Hutchins