Sonja Johanson

(Maple Triptych I,  Native first published in Avocet.)


I have watched loss develop in you
As though it were a love affair.
At first, every day was snowshoe hares
In the throes of vernal passion.
So was your first spring,
Bashing blindly into people.
They might have been trees for all you cared,
Your only thought was for the other coney.
For relentless months there was nothing
Except the hurricane for you.
Presently, others put their candles aside
Left you wandering with your solitary torch.
Years shuffled by; now your heart has stabilized.
But still, always there, to be accounted for,
Is your grief, your silent companion.


Acer saccharum

When it was winter,
Though no longer so cold
That we needed to wait for the bus
Inside our wooden shelter,
Safe from the wind or plows,
We would dash out in the morning
To pluck and crunch the sapcicles
That had formed in the night.
After school, we took down the plastic jugs.
Those would fill the pots boiling on the stove,
Steaming the paper from the kitchen walls.
But first, we curled our tongues to the spiles
Braced for the metallic tang
Waiting for the slow drip of tree water.

Acer rubrum

He asked what color spring was
And thinking of the crayon box
We guessed wrong.
It is the color of swamp maples
When the trees have shaken off the rime
And those swelling branches blush
So that you can tell the water table
From any height of land.
Precocious carnelian sprays
Above the skunk cabbages.
Hopefully broadcasting enough seed
To plant the first crop of weeds
In the vegetable beds-
A hundred pairs of hands,
Still wearing red wool mittens,
But clapping for the sun.

Acer saccharinum

There was a grove of young trees in the dooryard.
When September breezes struck the leaves
They flipped and twisted
Silver as the siding on the toolshed.
When we paddled down the river
The old trees, huge with constant drinking,
Kept us in their enormous shade.
Cables from the abandoned ferry
Hung over the water, anchored in sturdy trunks.
Riverbanks, as much burl as mud,
Gave us loops for tying up the canoe,
Hand and footholds for climbing.
Floating down sidebranches, sometimes we ducked
To pass under a giant that had fallen
When the bank gave way.
We lay back, under the dappling, and watched
As kingfishers launched themselves across our vision.


Acer platanoides

Those maroon lollipops, they looked so crass
Lined up along the manicured lawns
In their perfect circles of orange mulch,
Dressing the landscape in middle class uniforms.
They seemed so vain and garish
Wearing button down shirts and ties,
Pinstriped suits of bark, chartreuse nosegays.
Leaving their poor relations to scrape by
In abandoned lots and waste places,
Pock marked with nasty black spots
Scarred carriers of tree measles. 

Acer pseudoplatanus

No known maple could ever grow,
Much less thrive, so close to salt spray,
On that moonscape of scree and broken pavement.
The only plausible explanation
For this fat, vigorous trunk
Weaving through the fence like a python
For those broad, rippled leaves
Like the great polydactyl claws of some predator
For the bizarre samaras, not proper pairs
But triplet seeds, strange as a third eye,
Must be that some distant planet exploded
Sending debris hurtling through the galaxy.
Somewhere in the meteorite that smashed into this shoreline
Nestled one alien seed
Which found favor with this new soil,
Forgiving atmosphere, fortunate distance from our sun.

Acer palmatum

At first, I felt sorry for them-
Those kept plants, the geisha trees.
Too thin skinned and delicate to stand a real winter
Without breaking out in frost cracks.
But, over time, my own blood thinning
From this milder latitude
I began to notice the painted patterns
On their long fingers.
Their modest way when leafing out.
I could see how a sponsor
Might shape their development.
Here, cull a reverting limb.
There, place a thinning cut
To open the gracious form.

Sonja Johanson currently serves as the training  coordinator for the Massachusetts Master Gardener Association.  She divides  her time between work in Massachusetts and her home in the mountains of western  Maine. You can read more of her poetry at


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