for my mother, Berenice Stone Cook

Indebted to a simple spark of life,
You missed your chance at Europe’s wondrous door.
A conscientious mother and a wife,
You danced your dance upon an inland shore.

Your simple fabrics catch my memory.
Aprons and cotton stockings made a trail
To sheets that sailed before the maple tree,
And yet you chose a froth of pale blue veil

To haze your thoughts, and everything I knew
Concerning you, your dearest wishes, lay
Covered, as the nasturtium seeds you grew
Beside your step. And when you could not stay

The colors of your mornings stayed behind.
My heart will see them when my eyes are blind.




The Man Who Loved Trees

for my father, Donald Cook

Once I just laughed when you spoke well of trees,
Sneering at your daft simplicity.
You would praise the spread, the reach and ease
With which they stood. Then, in complicity,
The trees agreed and bonded with a breeze
That ruffled your scant hair illicitly,
Pulling your tie askew as if to tease,
Pushed up your Panama, and laughed at me.

Looking for greatness everywhere, I did
Think trees remote, irrelevant in time.
My outlook stiffened as deep problems hid
Their faces; and each day stopped on a dime.
Your larger view lay crushed beneath a lid
Of false convention, out of sync and rhyme.
Severe intentions froze my narrow view.
I was a fool—and each tree thought so, too.

An earlier version of this poem appeared
at Expansive Poetry Online



A former Wilbur Fellow and six-time Pushcart nominee, Sally Cook is a regular contributor to National Review, and has appeared in venues as varied as Chronicles, Lighten Up On Line, and TRINACRIA. Also a painter, her present works in the style known as Magic Realism are represented in national collections such as the N.S.D.A.R. Museum in Washington, D.C. and The Burchfield-Penney, Buffalo, NY.

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38 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    I have always loved these two poems by Sally. What an honor to pay to one’s parents.

  2. Damian Robin

    My father-in-law died last week. Both my wife and I have a complex relationship with him.
    So I’m looking for the details that might bring up the moods in your poems.
    And, consequently, probably overthinking them :^/

    It’s not clear to me what your mum missed at “Europe’s wondrous door”, especially as you have been very negative about Europe in your political poems.

    Such admirable vivid descriptions of fabrics and flowers. The warmth of nasturtiums conjured up and persisting in the words as well as beyond sight. But, hey, Susan, there is no certainty of blindness in old age, though you may be considering your own time after life.

    Nice showing of admission of wrongness in the second.
    And very stylish, extended rhyme counteracting the ‘ lid
    Of false convention, out of sync and rhyme.’
    By ‘Severe intentions’ and ‘my narrow view’, you mean your negativity to trees ?
    And I’m not clear on “My outlook stiffened as deep problems hid
    Their faces; and each day stopped on a dime.”

    Both poems relaxed in their formal strictures. Very skillful and approachable. Thank you for the naturalness on things that can get mawkish and sad – and, for me, complex.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      I think Sally means that her mother never got the chance to travel to Europe, and thereby missed out on experiencing all the artistic glories of Europe’s past. No politics is involved.

      • Sally Cook

        Thanks very much, Joe for putting us back on track.

    • Sally Cook

      Damian, I am very pleased that I have inspired you to search for significant details in your own bereavement with which to flesh out a descriptive poem.
      However, I must clear up a big misunderstanding:
      First, I don’t believe I have ever written a political poem;
      Second, my interest in Europe is genealogical, not political.
      Third, though Susan and I admire each other’s work,we are not joined at the hip or in any other way.
      Otherwise, I thank you for your careful reading.

      Let’s be friends, but Damian, do put on your specs !

      • Damian Robin

        Thank you, Sally. Spex are one option – and mentally calming down another.
        Thanks for your kindness.

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Damian, I just wanted to get one thing straight. I have never been negative about Europe only the EU. I love Europe. I loathe authoritarianism.

  3. Paul Freeman

    Two wonderful tributes, Sally.

    Thanks for a brace of such sincere reads.

  4. Cheryl Corey

    The way that you incorporate the natural world makes these two poems a cohesive pair. Both are elegant.

    • Sally Cook

      Thank you Cheryl, for your perceptive eye. The natural world was a big part of both their lives.
      I had wondered if anyone noticed

  5. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Dear Sally, these two poetic treats are exquisite. I particularly like layers of meaning, especially the way the playful innocence of the child’s-eye view is humbled by the wisdom of the adult perspective. Those trees knew a thing or two, and so did your father who is brought to life with the wonder of your words. I particularly like the picture you paint of his ruffled hair and pushed up Panama. The comparison of the “larger view” and the “narrow view” is heart touching and highlighted with the smile of the closing line.

    Berenice Stone Cook (what a strong name) is my kind of lady. I love her. Her dedication to her family coupled with that “…froth of pale blue veil/To haze [her] thoughts” adds an inner splendor and mystery to the stalwart exterior. Her dearest wishes laying covered like nasturtium seeds that flowered by her step is a perfect image for an obviously much-loved mother… those images never leave us. Every time I see geraniums, giant marigolds, and sweet peas, I think of my grandmother. Sally, your poems sing to me. Thank you very much indeed!

    • Sally Cook

      You see, that is why we are that rare thing, two completely diverse poets who on a lesser level would be fighting like canine and feline, but instead are able to see the layers of meaning, the good in each other’s work !
      I am constantly amazed by that.
      Too bad it is so seldom that way,

  6. Jeff Eardley

    Sally, you must have had very special parents to inspire these two super poems.
    Thank you.

    • Sally Cook

      Well, Jeff, much like everyone else, I didn’t always think so. Both were musical , artistic, and scared to death their children would follow in their footsteps and not be able to care for them in their old age. Consequently, they favored the more practical one.
      They were who they were; set in stone (especially Berenice.) They knew right from wrong. incapable of dissembling to gain favor. Perhaps ;that’s why I can’t get them out of my head, or my heart.

  7. Brian Yapko

    Sally, these poems are absolutely exquisite — radiant with a love and respect for your mother and father which is complex but deeply sincere. I especially like the humility which concludes “The Man Who Loved Trees.” Thank you for these lovely poems. They are a gift.

    • Sally Cook

      Brian, you know every relationship is complex, and this one was no exception. I have found myself judging every man I’ve ever known by a parental yardstick I didn’t even know I had. So, when I saw my mother as grim, my father as hypocritical, I could see why.
      Men do not usually approve of me. They have their ideas of what I should be.
      But I have an idea of what a man should also be. And I have been taught what is important. Sometimes it is a tradeoff, for instance I can trade kindness for strength; knowledge for affection – and vice versa.
      The idea that my father could come home drunk as a skunk; give us all his money, wake up with a hangover and demand it all back — that was just life.

  8. Margaret Coats

    Sally, were you or your mother thinking of nasturtiums as companion plants? I have grown them to accompany tomatoes and keep insects off. If this fits into the meaning of your poem, it’s a good choice of flower to characterize a part-time gardener carefully excluding pests in a natural way.

    In the poem for your father, the “outlook stiffened” lines are a little cryptic, but upon meditation, I understand “deep problems” hiding their faces to be serious difficulties whose roots the speaker cannot see. She lived from day to day, and “each day stopped on a dime,” not allowing her the larger view her father had from the perspective of trees.

    These are unique tributes honoring your parents as simple individuals with a high degree of wisdom.

    • Sally Cook

      Margaret, I must disagree on one point. Theyi were wise, yes, but they were anything but simple! This must be my fault – it is difficult to remember everything. The timeless perspective of the trees made us all look simple l
      Thank you so very much for reminding me that my mother did know of the relationship between tomatoes and nasturtium, I believe she did put tomatoes in with them.

  9. C.B. Anderson

    I get the feeling, Sally, that these poems had been brewing in the mash tun of your mind for quite a long time. After reading the first one, I was tempted to write that never before had you nailed the hues of existence so well, but when I read the second one I realized that you had only just gotten started. God bless your family tree and its revelation in these amazing poems. It’s a blessing to know where you came from, and I hope someday to claim that happy space for myself.

    • Sally Cook

      Dear Kip –
      My poems are not brewed. This holds true especially since I do not quaff beer. Perhaps you already knew this, perhaps not, but this is why:
      For many years I had an impossible job. After one extremely awful day, made so by a combination of blind alleys, heat and stupidity, I looked into the frig and found one tempting frosty bottle of beer. Thinking this and a lie-down were the answer to my troubles, I took it upstairs and set it, opened and together with a glass, on my mother’s maple bureau. Turned away to the closet; there was a heavy crash as if something had come through the roof. Thought it must be a minor earthquake, of which we have many.
      What a mess ! Cleaned it up; there was about half a bottle left; set that on the dresser once more.
      Turned back to the closet, only to be greeted by a second crash. Righted the bottle, then watched as the bottle moved off the chest out into the middle of the room, tipped up and poured the rest of the beer onto the rug.
      I knew it was my mother — whiskey was OK, but she had always hated beer
      I won’t say I didn’t try the beer again, but it had lost its savor and very shortly disappeared from my menu.

      • C.B. Anderson

        I’m sorry to say, Sally, that I haven’t heard this tale before. Don’t worry about the brewing. The mash tun is just where the malted barley is fermented prior to distillation. I think I already understood that you are a wine person, and if this presumption is likewise also false, then I don’t know what to say.

  10. Roy E. Peterson

    I identify with both your mother and father including embracing the simple, yet possessed with intelligence and abilities. The trees really brought me back to my grade school years in South Dakota, before moving to Texas for the 8th grade. My dad planted a shelter belt of more than 100 trees on our farm. I can still see him there, since they had six years of growth before we left and we would pick berries from the berry trees.

    • Sally Cook

      Roy, my father was able to get pines free from the state and ordered several dozen, which he planted many down our side road and in other spots, . when he was in his late teens.
      Some of them are still standing, and I can see them as we go by on the bus to Buffalo.
      So, there is always a reminder; something he left behind as a living monument.
      Just recently, the present owners of the house took down a giant maple my grandfather had treated; I think it was about 300 years old when it bit the dust.
      Further on down that same highway is a giant pine which stood on the lawn of my childhood home, they cut all the locusts which stood with it, but the pine was too imposing, I guess. He also is about 300 years old.
      Once you get to know a tree, the
      memory of it stays with you.

    • Sally Cook

      To C. B Anderson:
      Roy, let me just hop in here as C.B. doesn’t havave a place from which to reply.

      TO KIP,

      Kip you are right on the money. After my mother scared me off beer, I began a brief sojourn into one bourbon and water, no ice after work, then lost the taste for it, and settled for merlot.

  11. Shaun C. Duncan

    These are both wonderful tributes, Sally – deeply appreciative, but clear-eyed and without excessive sentimentality, which is a fine line to walk. Despite the extremely personal subject matter, you’ve managed to craft two poems which actually speak to the casual reader, which seems to be an extremely difficult feat to pull off. Personally I’ve never been game to try it but, with your example in mind, maybe one day I will.

  12. Cheryl Corey

    To follow up to my initial comment: the first poem has the feminine imagery of flowers; the second, that of trees, the more masculine. Taken together, they create a yin-yang effect. This harmonious balance that makes for even more pleasurable reading.

    • Sally Cook

      = Yes, Cheryl — Thank you for introducing Ying Yang, which are especially appropriate when served up as paired fictive artifacts. But the real challenge is to make them simultaneously come alive on two levels.

  13. James A. Tweedie


    Parents and our relationships with them are, as you point out, rarely simple. There are layers upon layers of meaning tied into the memories of experiences that may have been literal at first but often become more imaginative (perhaps even mythological) over time.

    To capture this with any degree of success in prose would take volumes.

    Which leads us to a celebration of the unique and powerful art of poetry which can find eternity in a wildflower. Not to mention capturing and personifying one’s parents in “a froth of pale blue veil” and in a collage of ruffled hair, a tie askew, and a pushed-back Panama hat.

    You not only capture the essential memory of your parents but you capture the essence of poetry itself by giving us a lesson in what poetry is capable of doing when wielded well.

  14. Sally Cook

    James, I knew you would find a graceful way of sayihg what has just been said.

    My thanks to you for saying it.

  15. Norma Pain

    These two beautiful poems struck a chord with me. They are lovely. Thank you Sally.

    • Sally Cook

      Dear Norma —
      My Dear, thanks so much for your appreciative words
      You are very gracious.

  16. Sally Cook

    Shaun, I would think that most subtle conclusions have come from thinking some long thoughts on the subject. I have been doing that a lot on these two, both in general and in particular, and dredged up things even I didn’t know I knew.
    I do hope you will try some ! With your descriptive ability, you will come up with some good stuff, I know…

  17. Sally Cook

    Thabks to all who responded to these poems. It is wonderful to see ideas fly.


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