Friday, December 1, 2017

Poetry Friday: Lai (A Forked Tree)

The last Poetry Challenge of 2017 was a lai on the subject of peace, light or hope.

I'd never heard of it, but when I followed Tricia's links, I found out that a lai is an old French poetry form with a rhyme scheme of aabaabaab, and even more challenging---each "a" line is five syllables long, and each "b" line, a mere two syllables.

This results in an oddly shaped poem, but according to one source this is intentional, as "the short line must not be indented, it must be left dressed to the poem. This is known as Arbre Fourchu (Forked Tree)..."

Okay. I was hooked.  Not only is that a loaded image, but I loved the French I took in high school and college, and had fun weaving some of it into this poem. (I hope most of the French is self-explanatory and correctly used. But I kind of doubt it. I've never tried to write a poem in two languages before.)

As for "peace, light, or hope," my poem talks about when those things fail.

The Storm

L’arbre fourchu cries
a cry in two sighs
Left! Right!
One root, forked, belies
how deep the divide
Oh! night!
Our split hearts likewise
cry riven! and rise!
We fight.

Branch set against twig
Little against big
Quelle sight!
Wind's jagged cruel jig
Sky scarred by zag! zig!
Oh, fright!
Feu cares not a fig
It’s a brazen pig.
Oh, bright

swords writhe sap from tree
twin arms flaming free
Left. Right.
Dieu, où est l’abri?*
We blaze cri to cri:
Dark! Light!
Come morning, oh, me.
L’arbre fourchu see:
Ashed might.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

*God, where is the shelter?

You can find my Poetry Sisters lai here:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by the marvelous Mary Lee at A Year of Reading.


  1. I love that you took the meaning of the word and used it to inspire your poem. You've written a loose form of macaronic verse here (a poem in which two or more languages are mixed together) and it really works.

    It has a marching cadence to it that makes me think of the military and war. I'm not sure if you meant to do that or not, but it adds something to the theme.

    I especially love
    "Our split hearts likewise
    cry riven! and rise!
    We fight."

    Well done.

    1. I hadn't thought of the cadence as warlike, Tricia...I was thinking of a storm building...but really, it could be the same. Thanks for suggesting this form---it's one of my favs of all we've done.

  2. You are the ultimate scholar!! I love what you've done here and the French makes it feel so rich...

    1. You know the French and rich food, hee hee.

  3. swords writhe sap from tree
    twin arms flaming free
    Left. Right.

    I'm reminded of the angels guarding the gates of Eden against interlopers, and Dieu, où est l’abri? is all the more poignant and awful. That first night - for creatures who had never experienced night - and the hope of that first morning must have been awesome.

    1. Wow. I like where your mind went with that image. Thank you for that, T.

  4. Wow. That brazen pig, so unexpected in this rich poem, felt somehow SO right! And split hearts ties in almost exactly with a phrase I'm playing with for a current project, and gave me a whole new metaphor to perhaps play with in that manuscript. Question for you: Is the tree blazing to light the way and show the distance between the paths? Or are we burning down the tree--stupid race that we sometimes are? Or something else entirely? I thought it was the second one, but I'm wondering if that's how you meant it... Love the drama in this whole poem!

    1. Whew. I'm glad you like the "brazen pig"---that kind of popped up in the draft and I could never bring myself to take it out. I like having at least one item that doesn't fit the dominant metaphor of the poem---kind of like that one weird element the designers say you should use to "finish" a room. Ha. Like I'd know anything about designing. (P.S. I was thinking we are burning down the tree. Sadly.)

  5. Wow! I'm reeling from the sights and sounds of this poem!

    1. Thanks, Kay. I was hoping it might feel like a storm of words, building.

  6. Bravo! I went to Tricia's link for instructions on this form because I love a challenge....but this one is a doozy for sure. I do love how you incorporated the two fork idea into the poem and the French words. That is super clever and your poem works well. It rhymes in all thr right places and spins a story with style. Manifique!

    1. Thanks, Linda. I hope you try this form---it's fun the deeper you get into it. All of us were surprised at how well it worked; there's a reason these old forms feel fresh!

  7. Wow.

    But then, I find myself saying that often when it comes to your writing. I gave my arc of Wolf Hour to a student who had galloped gleefully through Adam Gidwitz's Tale Dark and Grimm trio. He loved it. I read it on the drive home from NCTE. WOW. I loveloveloved it. It's in the hands of another reader now...can't wait to find out what she thinks. Thank you for your words. Every last one of them!

    1. Aw, Mary Lee...THANK YOU. Thank you for reading The Wolf Hour, and thank you for passing it on to your students, and thank you for letting me know about all of it! If I can ever do anything to support your classroom, please let me know.


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