The eighty-foot Robinia
that grows in my garden
and tries to hide behind the garage, like a gangly
adolescent merging into the crowd, though
its delicacy of leaf is an indelible mark of distinction,
is also, I discover, known as the ‘black locust.’
The Black Locust. It sounds like a spy
from a pre-war novel, last suspected
of living under an assumed name in Casablanca
or perhaps Port Said, consorting with
dancing girls and passing on messages from the Fat Man
in mysterious codes, whorls, woody curlicues.
An invasive species, in this case from North America
where, paradoxically, it has been recently classified
as a weed due to its suckering habit
(where there are spies there are always also the gullible)
and so I look up at it
with renewed wonder; the world’s stateliest weed.
Most species are invasive; how many English nationalists
suspect the great oak of Chinese origins?
They must have laid their plans long ago,
in case the telecoms didn’t work out.
Since they can’t be made to grow straight, they’re no use
for railway sleepers; but maybe they’re sleepers anyway.
Robinia can’t be straightened either;
they have nothing to do with lines, defined angles;
their branches are flamboyant yet secretive;
if ingested by horses their bark causes,
among other ailments, depression and anorexia. Yet their pods
are eaten in Japan and Romania as delicacies.
The ‘delicate tree;’ that is what I called it
before I knew any of its many names.
Spy, horse-killer, preyer on crops,
invader of the prairies, your girth too big to mention
in polite company; crown-shy, twig-gentle, wrap me in
a forested espionage from which I shall never emerge.