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How Trees Became Human

Sumana Roy—

In How I Became a Tree, I was looking for people who had wanted to become or live like a tree. Since then, I’ve been trying to speculate in the opposite direction – what might it mean for plant life to live in the human social world? How I Became a Tree came to me in prose. This new imagined life, of tree as human, arrives in the form of poems. Why that is I do not know. In this might be hidden a secret about genres and their elasticities; or perhaps about trees. 

Indian Gooseberry

That light might have a bitter taste
comes to you when you bite a gooseberry.
The crunch, like a creaking gate, forced to yield;
the membrane, like a thread of fat on a cooled gravy,
as if light were an animal cooked like meat.
The tartness, relentless, the tongue in meditation,
like a wet log catching moss.
Sour, swimming in sensuous circles.
The taste unbuttoning, arriving slightly late,
as if it was its destiny to be anachronistic.
The first pungency turned to petition, for change,
the surrender to the acetic, 
the juice creased with surprise.

And when you think eating’s over, 
realizing that it isn’t very different from fasting,
sweetness comes unbidden, first like an annex,
then taking over, until you’re even jealous of your spit – 
it is sweeter than all the playfields in your body.


It now seems natural, in retrospect,
that leaves should taste of water.
But only here is it condensed, 
heightened, as anxiety is in newspapers.
That everyone, including water, 
should be eligible for transformation
is natural. But that water, colorless
and aroma-less, could turn green 
is mint’s phantom artistry. 
This fragrance, like a halo,
the veins of water distilled 
into this young smell, 
boyish and sacred, 
the moment before it turned sacred, 
the aroma of impermanence. 

It is the fur of water,
converting its religion,  
that tickles your nose.
Bruised, it fights the enemy with its smell,
further seducing its assassin.
Like pus, this smell stains the air.
The air, so long its plaster cast,
is ripped open by a knife.
The fibers of fragrance burst, 
like a sky scratched by wind – 
wild in pain, the delight of death. 
Water, migrant species, moves 
from the leaves to your tongue. 
Inside your mouth, 
the leaves lose their sails. 
The ship of death crashes against teeth. 
“There is no port, there is nowhere to go …”

Sumana Roy is associate professor of English and creative writing at Ashoka University in Haryana, India. She is the author of Missing: A NovelOut of Syllabus: Poems, and My Mother’s Lover and Other Stories.

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