the necessary conditions

to create or perceive a Bonsai)





In Santa Monica, on a crowded Promenade

I stare at the tiny tree on the tilted cart

At the silent, knuckle-thick trunk

That angles impossibly down.

Bristlecone Pine. Cascading.

Dwarfed by pruning, training.


I have been told:


To see a Bonsai

Forget that branches have been wire-coaxed

That pea-sized lead has hung for years

Forget trimmed roots

Forget conifer tips

Plucked between ball of thumb and finger.


Forget the salesgirl who smokes a French cigarette

To spite her worn-out boyfriend.

He waits on the stool, my perfect mirror,

Staring into the crowd of unfamiliar faces.


His arms reach back.


Forget my mother in her bath, closing the door.

You’re too old now, she says with an awkward smile.




The hand of measured fingers

that hush the baby’s mouth –

small, noisy o.


Or her ping-pong fists, pounding at my chest.




To see a Bonsai, shrink into

Its crafted grace, five-needled fascicles

Branches suspended as if draped over a ravine

As if you draped over that ravine.

Everything must go, they say.




The blue-gray light of television

Muted voices, costumes of the past

A family of three, watching wistfully.


On the other hand:


Here’s my father at my own boy’s arm:

Trying to wrest a towel my boy will not surrender.

I forgot those fingers.

How the unknown assaulted him by existing.

How much vengeance he hoped to extract.


At night, when no one was watching,

He grew very small.


Cut tongue. Stumped root. Chest of tools.


I watch him at the plumbing

Twisting against the unyielding world.


My own arms reach back

To the dinner where we talk about manners

But not the oak tree that fell in the storm

Exposing our academic life to the neighbors.


Faces screwed up from the inside.


Show of a smile

imitation of a perfect




To see a Bonsai, the Masters advise:

Don’t shake the tree loose of its crumpled form —

Shake the idea of the crumpled form loose from the tree.


As in:


My mother’s shroud draped across my face.

As if I agreed to pack

What we could’ve torched on any summer night.


I drive past my parents as they walk

Arm in arm. I call, but they do not

recognize my voice.

In the mirror, I watch them recede, vexed.


This is any summer night.

This is the overgrown pool, teeming with croaking frogs.

There is the real moon, deemed untouchable.


Like a cracked, windswept pine

at night on the cliffs

old, awake, alone—


There must be an original tree.




If only the Bonsai remains

Who then is watching?


Or a handful of pale water

content to be held

 content to flow.


Come, moon, patient and familiar

no longer cluttered with history.


My mother and father

One hand for each—


We’ll sing the old, rustling mantra:

Evergreen, evergreen, evergreen.


Here’s a quiet walk. Here’s a trackless forest.

Here’s a shakuhachi flute, unattended.


by Roger Soffer



Roger Soffer has written, and sometimes produced, miniseries and feature films for networks and studios, and is currently doing three bilingual animated features for China. His poetry has been Pushcart Prize-nominated and is featured or forthcoming in many journals, including Pennsylvania English, Spillway, Jet Fuel Review, and Euphony.

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