Sophia Landress graduated in 2021 from Penn where she studied Anthropology, Political Science, and English. She maintains a strong connection to the Redwood Trees in her hometown and strives for equitable access to natural beauty.
With tree symbolism central to my creative process, I explored the following research question: How can I use poetry to situate myself within and reflect on environmental justice issues in my hometown? Growing up in the Redwood forest in Northern California, trees held immense significance in my personal identity and place-based understanding. A poster from Muir Woods hung in my childhood room, proclaiming “Advice from a Tree,” and listing ten attributes of Redwood trees such as ‘standing tall and proud’ and ‘remembering your roots.’ The message of the poster serves to individualize and privatize the power differentials that obstruct (post)colonial subjects from accessing community memories and generational homelands, thus glossing over the neoliberal project. Theodore Roosevelt signed for the protection of Muir Woods, just as Eisenhower approved the fifteen-megaton BRAVO bomb at the Bikini Atoll. The privileges associated with my connection to trees cannot be ignored, especially considering inequitable access to nature, displacement due to the climate crisis, and persisting oppressions from colonialism.
The purpose of this creative work is to explore the tension between ‘action’ and ‘acting.’ As both a theater student and an activist, ‘to act’ takes on dual meanings, especially considering the hypocrisy and superficiality of greenwashing. The poem’s repetition highlights the irony that characterizes eco-friendliness in my hometown, emphasizing the pervasive ignorance about indigenous communities from the homeland we now call ours. I address these obscured indigenous truths by conveying counter-hegemonic relationships to land. As I grounded myself in the creative process, I considered the rhetorical devices that would serve my project. Choosing which proper nouns to capitalize depended on their position in postcolonial global power dynamics. Rhyming certain lines served to create and interrupt a rhythm, interspersing senses of confusion, discomfort, and displacement throughout the piece to foster empathy for the landless indigenous communities. In poetry, each unit of language is multidimensional, such that the reader can assess which elements resonate most with their emotional experience.
Keywords: Poetry; autobiographical; colonialism; global; social inequality
i am a tree at the beginning of each theater class, one student went to the center of the room and claimed, “i am a tree.” standing tall and proud. standing tall is a privilege. the Triqui migrant workers bend their backs knees knobbly, fingers stained filling sacks while the corporations make stacks. “save our state” the liberals in california voted. the broken backs stay broken their children will not be calling roll picking the berries that fill an acai bowl. at the beginning of each theater class, one student went to the center of the room and claimed, “i am a tree.” roots sunk into the ground below. sinking roots is a privilege with ‘explorers’ claiming other peoples’ land. the Bikini Islanders quickly losing their sand as their home is sinking, sinking, sinking. a hearty BRAVO from u.s. to the ‘other’ fifty thousand square miles of snow snow that will smother. nuclear family nuclear warfare nuclear test the u.s. doesn’t always know best a crater in the bleached reef but i’ll save them all by refusing beef. an Island is not an Island anymore if it is underwater. at the beginning of each theater class, one student went to the center of the room and claimed, “i am a tree.” remember your roots. remembering is a privilege forgetting that privilege is convenient. white folks controlling history and the news hike up the Mountain to see the pretty views forget how sacred Mount Tamalpais is to the people who called it home first speak the language of the colonizers where the Miwok were pushed aside breathe in the fresh air exhaled by each tree john muir and teddy roosevelt protecting nature for the paying tourists to see. at the beginning of each theater class, one student went to the center of the room and claimed, “i am a tree.” i am not a tree. from white burden to white guilt channel channel channel see beyond what the colonizers built. stand tall, sink roots, and remember: the trees provide a cool shade more than vegan, GMO-free, naturally-made the trees breathe life into our lungs more so than climbing the capitalists’ ladder rungs the trees perspire their nutty scent in a nation where laws of ‘fairness’ and ‘equality’ are constantly bent. an elderly Redwood nurturing a sprouting fairy ring creating the Forest of the future in which our children will dance and sing. i am not a tree. i vote for the human(e) rights of all, no matter citizenship nor degree. i recognize the right to self-determination for each climate refugee. i remember and honor the sacredness of Tamalpais, where the Miwok cannot live free. at the beginning of our final theater class, i went to the center of the room and claimed, “i am a tree.” but that was just part of the act.
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