That Sunday morning, at half past ten,
Two cars crossed the creek and entered the glen.
In the first was Art Longwood, a local florist,
With his children and wife (now Mrs. Deforest).
In the one that followed, a ranger saw
Art’s father, stepfather and father-in-law.
The three old men walked off to the cove.
Through tinkling weeds Art slowly drove.
Fair was the morning, with bright clouds afar.
Children and comics emerged from the car.
Silent Art, who could stare at a thing all day,
Watched a bug climb a stalk and fly away.
Pauline had asthma, Paul used a crutch.
They were cute little rascals but could not run much.
“I wish,” said his mother to crippled Paul,
“Some man would teach you to pitch that ball.”
Silent Art took the ball and tossed it high.
It stuck in a tree that was passing by.
And the grave green pilgrim turned and stopped.
The children waited, but no ball dropped.
“I never climbed trees in my timid prime,”
Thought Art; and forthwith started to climb.
Now and then his elbow or knee could be seen
In a jigsaw puzzle of blue and green.
Up and up Art Longwood swarmed and shinned,
And the leaves said yes to the questioning wind.
What tiaras of gardens! What torrents of light!
How accessible ether! How easy flight!
His family circled the tree all day.
Pauline concluded: “Dad climbed away.”
None saw the delirious celestial crowds
Greet the hero from earth in the snow of the clouds.
Mrs. Longwood was getting a little concerned.
He never came down. He never returned.
She found some change at the foot of the tree.
The children grew bored. Paul was stung by a bee.
The old men walked over and stood looking up,
Each holding five cards and a paper cup.
Cars on the highway stopped, backed, and then
Up a rutted road waddled into the glen.
And the tree was suddenly full of noise,
Conventioners, fishermen, freckled boys.
Anacondas and pumas were mentioned by some,
And all kinds of humans continued to come:
Tree surgeons, detectives, the fire brigade.
An ambulance parked in the dancing shade.
A drunken rogue with a rope and a gun
Arrived on the scene to see justice done.
Explorers, dendrologists – all were there;
And a strange pale girl with gypsy hair.
And from Cape Fear to Cape Flattery
Every paper had: Man Lost in Tree.
And the sky-bound oak (where owls had perched
And the moon dripped gold) was felled and searched.
They discovered some inchworms, a red-cheeked gall,
And an ancient nest with a new-laid ball.
They varnished the stump, put up railings and signs.
Restrooms nestled in roses and vines.
Mrs. Longwood, retouched, when the children died,
Became a photographer’s dreamy bride.
And now the Deforests, with four old men,
Like regular tourists visit the glen;
Munch their lunches, look up and down,
Wash their hands, and drive back to town.
Click here to hear Nabokov read the work (4:43)
Photo: Vladimir Nabokov with butterfly doodles by the author (1920s)