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Plant Focus

Quercus macdougallii
A rare oak endemic to the Sierra Juárez in Oaxaca

"Burning Oak, November" by Joyce Carol Oates

The fourth in a series of posts of poems featuring oaks: a poignant image of the remains of an oak recently felled, its stump slowly and flamelessly going up in smoke.

If you would like to propose a poem for inclusion in this series, please click here.


Burning Oak, November

Yesterday, the sky in mute
horizontal swaths, air
almost too thick to breathe.
We found the stump of an old oak, man-

sized, burning without flame
at the end of a clearing—splintered wood
raw, bulldozed roots exposed—
even the black ants fled

in the stink of old grief
made public and final, old hopes exposed—
past tense!—now headless leafless a stump
knocked half out of the earth

and the soul just blue smoke vague
and slow-spreading rising without grace
into an indifferent sky no one will paint,
or photograph, or see—
except us: yesterday.


Source: Poetry (November 1986) 



Joyce Carol Oates (born June 16, 1938) is an American writer. Oates published her first book in 1963, and has since published 58 novels, a number of plays and novellas, and many volumes of short stories, poetry, and non-fiction. Her novels Black Water (1992), What I Lived For (1994), and Blonde (2000), and her short story collections The Wheel of Love (1970) and Lovely, Dark, Deep: Stories (2014) were each finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. She has won many awards for her writing, including the National Book Award, for her novel them (1969), two O. Henry Awards, the National Humanities Medal, and the Jerusalem Prize (2019).