Why have the dish, the three smooth stones,
if not to contextualize the roots?
They are all here for
the treeness of the thing.
Three pebbles, no more. A fourth would carry
too much suggested weight.
The jade-colored dish might crack
under the thought of it.
Five would be superfluous.
Imagine some visitor without a sense of tree,
from the dark side of a cave, or treeless Neptune,
or 65th and Jefferson.
Explain to him the delicate links
between signifier and signified.
Explain the processes of sun, and rain, and wind
on living wood. Gestures may help here.
Take her hand and run her fingers
along a branch weighed down by
age and Spanish moss.
Trace the awkward spur of a broken limb,
smoothed and carbuncled and fringed by tiny branchlets.
How its leaves crunch underneath, the smells
of sap and loam and the sharp blue scent of juniper berries.
Now, turn back to the cave.
Each tree, and there are many,
has itself its three pebbles.
Some few have human touches,
a well, or a very short path
from one side of the dish to its opposite.
The tree, the rocks, the dish--
again and again, each tree heavy
with simulated age, burdened by
dust, drawn down by the relentless gravity
of their several pots,
and the weight of bright price tags,
shockingly orange against their ancient greens.
In an economy of scale, what is twenty dollars?
One would expect--no, demand--
that this tree along the path,
an appropriate place for the smallest possible pilgrim
to share rice with a stranger,
pen a few syllables on man's
insignificance beside the oak, the never-ending road--
this tree we could have slept under, on our way home--
cost more than the sum of its parts--
the tree, the rocks, the dish, the dust, the bright orange tag.
Someone has quantified its imagined years,
twenty dollars, along with a certificate
on the ancient art of bonsai,
on the care of your tree
and the authenticity of your purchase.
But it does not name the path,
nor the traveler you sat with,
or the song played by the temple bells
aching miles down the road.