Tree Forms

The chapbook Tree Forms, published by Finishing Line Press, is based on poems inspired by trees I encountered in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Kentucky, partly during the fall of 2009, when I went out west on a solo camping/visiting trip, and partly afterwards, in the months following our son’s death. Tree Forms can be ordered from Finishing Line Press. Just click on their link and see my listing (alphabetical). The cost is $12.00 plus $1.50 shipping. It’s also available on

Reviews are available below. Here are a couple of examples (the chapbook doesn’t include the pictures–that’s my coffee table dream!).

When I Fall

When I fall, I’d like it to be
in a very clear lake
at the top of a mountain.

I’d like to know that I will see
the mounting fuzziness of moss
and beneath, the hard calcium
of other elements

that fishes dart beneath me
in the sun, and above, the brilliant stars
pulse in harmony.

I’d like to fall with a splash
and ripples that hit the shores and come
back to me, saying

yes, it’s there.

When I fall, I’d like to know it’s near home,
that my roots, even exposed
are familiar
if not exactly what they were before.

Make it green with a hint of blue,
and me, bleached of all color

just a path, narrow and tentative
for some tiny creature

seeking the other side.

The Story They Tell Is Our Story

Two trees started green and leaned in slow—
took their lifetime to become this arch.
They seem an old couple we might know,
their lives now stories their bodies tell.

Consider the one on the left,
see how it has twisted, reaching
for the other until forced away—
by war or peace, the demands of work
—and yet, look!

See it reach a limb across the divide
(though the span is shy).
Like you, I think, reaching across
the space between us:
Were the children done then?
Was work the way you wanted it,
or gone beyond what you had to offer?—
Why didn’t I lean harder then,
and when was it clear
my slow arch was toward you?

Couldn’t you have pushed that limb,
acknowledge that I, inclining always to the left
was steady as the seasons?

It was that second reach, wasn’t it,
that stripped us down, said
this, or nothing—

It was evident then, when first these trees—
one smooth and pointed but how slow!
one pocked and twisting—
began the spinal dance that ever and a day

pulls us in. Love it is, then,
and chemistry and psychology
and all that baggage we strip away.

There’s always a story, theirs or ours:
I hear you say, take me as I am, love,
bare and bristly,
you have only and always been the one.


Tree Forms has an anchor in this world: in October of 2009 Jane Olmsted lost her youngest son Casey to murder. Camping alone in the Southwest on a kind of vision quest, she also finds another world, a kind of dream world in which she interacts with trees. The poems that result are meditations, prayers, incantations, railings, symphonies, reflections, dissections, dreams, lamentations. In “The Hole,” she writes of “a sacred portal between this world and / this same world made better, / where we might find happiness at last.” You won’t be the same after you read these poems. “It’s not so much turning your back / on what’s there, / as deciding what to let in,” Olmsted writes. Let these poems in –Elizabeth Oakes, author of Farm Girls, The Luminescence of All Things Emily, and Mercy in the New World.

“If these limbs could unbend, they’d set the record straight,” Jane Olmsted writes in the opening poem of this collection. Through hiking, camping, reading and writing, she seeks to know trees, indeed to become a tree, anchored in heaven and earth. As the poems move into the darkness of her son’s death, she reckons with his life, his words, his leaving. No trees can contain this suffering, but they offer companionship on the soul’s harsh journey.  –George Ella Lyon, author of Back: Poems

In Tree Forms, Jane Olmsted’s delicate descriptions give us glimpses of trees stunted by wind, twisted by weather, trees felled, “dissected and exposed” or “flinging a lump of needles, so like the beginning of joy.” In poem after poem, Olmsted reaches through “tree forms” to discover “another way to live inside myself” or lose herself “in the heart of the matter” or to recover (by way of relentless confrontation) what has been blasted from her life. The volume rises toward three superb final poems that gather the accumulated force of Olmsted’s central metaphor to confront an unbearable loss–the death of her son. In her exquisite poem, “The Hole,” and in others in her elegant little volume, a reader experiences what Wallace Stevens described as “the poem of the mind in the act of finding what will suffice.” If poetry offers us containers for emotion and allows our states of being to find form on the page, Olmsted’s poems suffice–and more: they heal, they hope, they acknowledge “we have hurt ourselves most grievously/and yet here we are.” –Leatha Kendrick, author of Second Opinion (2008)