Poem of the month

The Tree Surgeon

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)