Not even for a million dollars would I paint a tree
De Kooning, 1968
I never thought of Noam Chomsky as a real person.
He was the author of Descriptive Grammar, that we
The English majors had to take for one semester,
Maybe two. He turned us into draftsmen: architects
Of a sentence structure with parts of grammar
Dangling on a scaffolding, which, by the way, was called
A tree. We drew the trees of the English language
Heavy with fruits of nouns and verbs. When the exam came
We inhaled these already sentenced smokes to make Chomsky
Today, I see Sharon Olds on a stage .
She is breaking the line standing on her left foot, right leg bent.
Her back towards me. She is New York black dress
Except for her hot pink sneakers, one of which is planted
Balancing the tree, right hand stretched out
To the east.
“ Here are my nouns,” she says,
Drawing her west hand along the Greenwich Time Line
Of her head. Her beautiful white hair falling
On her neck, back and shoulders. “And my verbs are dangling
At the tip of the branch here,” she is wiggling her right hand fingers.
“And then I tip on my left toe and put the right foot to it,
And it’s done.”
The line is broken -- to which she turns on her left heel,
Bows and plops into an author’s chair --
To thunderous applause.
And I am home, smoking a cigarette with Chomsky.
It took me a generation and a half to connect
His tree with Sharon Olds’ performance.
Which is to say: how can any tree grow without
A sense of humor and a bull
As fertilizer ?