Pressing against the trunk, he twists around
and back to test the resilience of the branch,
the rope, the safety of his position,
then crawls along a bough - a primate
in his habitat. When he stops to rest and
contemplate the distracting criss-cross of last
season's twigs, plot his next move and where
to cut yet not harm the tree's structure,
he becomes again a modern human.
Next spring it will start again. By autumn,
when this year's leaves have fallen, the space
he's cleared will be filigreed with new growth.
The pressure of a tool on his palm, the timeless
repetitions of toil, seem part of the same
process - something more important than
an individual life. He's caring for trees,
not carving a sculpture that will immortalize
him; would never conceive such ambitions.
At ground level, two men, helmetted,
their ears muffled against the sound, feed
fallen branches through the mouth of a hopper
that spits the shredded stuff into the open back
of a truck. The tree surgeon, gracefully
stretching toward the tip of the tallest branch,
is only not an artist because he knows
that what he does could be done as well -
or maybe even better - by someone else.
Ruth Fainlight's latest collection, Burning Wire, is published by Bloodaxe Books (£7.95)