In a Belfast park,
bug bitten beneath your sprawl
I crawl inside you

guessing the twist grew
from root to shoot to sapling,
looped up, out, sprouting

double edged sharp tongues,
trails of soft green tresses flung,
hiding pock-marked skin,

my cracked fissures yours,
your gobbled body parts mine,
all stretched, split, lived, lined,

contortionist’s limbs
thrown akimbo must reveal
a hidden wishbone.

THERESE KIERAN | Hornbeam | Belfast

I hate Mrs Collins. Why’d she have to give me the Hornbeam homework? I’ve never even seen one. There’s one in the park she said, go have a look. So I do. 

Where are you nornbeam, gornbeam, bornbeam, hornbean, yornbeam, hornveam? Oh horndamit, here you are.

It’s shady under the branches with their shark tooth leaves that look like stinging nettles, that don’t. They’re smooth underneath and a bit rough on the top. The trunk’s short, head height at the point where it starts to twist off, splitting into other branches that bend round and appear to link arms with each other. The bark is rough and hard and scratches my knees as I haul myself into a crook where an elbow juts out below. It’s hush quiet up here, just some wind music rustling through the pendulous branches, heavy with summer leaf. 

On my phone, I google hornbeam: Carpinus Betalus, easily confused with Beech. Hardy, hard as iron; iron from horn, beam from the old English for tree. Slow growing; easily pleached – get this Mrs Collins – meaning, trained to blend together into unusual shapes, as in, “a large avenue of pleached fruit trees,” from Much Ado About Nothing. Deciduous but ‘ever-brown’ through winter, with female and male catkins that some people call lambs’ tails. Two species are native to Europe, whereas Asia has over thirty. Lucky Asia! 

Grey squirrels rattle their bush tails over the highest branches and blackbirds dart back and forth from nearby shrubs, happily hopping around grass shoots near its base. A sunbeam sparks a glint off something to my right, and on a name plate I read Carpinus Orientalis, “Well hello Asia!” I find the park’s website online and discover it was imported almost two hundred years ago. Wow! You’re looking pretty good old-timer!

But what will become of you? Firewood, furniture, flooring? Or tool handles, charcoal, a butcher’s block? I discover all are possible, and that once you’d have made a good Ox yoke. And moulded, your white wood could form the hammer that holds the felt that hits the string that sounds the note in a piano. 

And here’s something – a copse has been planted in England, propagated from one surviving tree following the Delville Wood battle during the Somme. A million lives were lost, the landscape devastated, and the last tree standing was a hornbeam. Mrs Collins will love this.