for Russell and the commune

I am listening and seeing and making
a picture of a place through a single trek —
someone’s daily routine, daily encounters,

synthesised through conversation
and vicarious participation, but nonetheless,
I am there, walking and listening and seeing.

Past the only “legal” hippy commune on public land
in Germany — Wagenburg, the fortresses of refusal,
of declining what’s on offer in “townlife,” on the edge of forest

with trees marked with blue spots or slashed
with orange, separating the “mature” from the rings
of witness to make the grade, selective logging.

But the barefoot kids of the Wagenburg know
the trees must all stand to make the light and shade
work the way it does, their palisades against regulation.

This gateway that is not a barrier. Nor is the gateway
of the old French barracks of occupation below, two concrete
pillars all might pass through without hesitation,

warzone colonised by civilians, friends living between
recycled barracks, looking out onto the forest,
up past the Panzer workshop, the Wagenburg.

As we walk higher, past a meadow sloping
down to the treeline, a warning: down there
is bad karma, it's where they shot deserters.

We won’t go there. I will never go there.
But the people of Wagenburg offer hope
that ghosts have somewhere to shelter,
to wander in barefoot, be welcomed.

• • •

Searching for the Tübingen Friedenseiche

“The tree has been planted in 1871 after the war between Germany and France
as a symbol for peace.”

Oak tree memorial to the end of war
that served the newly laid down empire
well, though who’s pulling straws

when peace is at stake, the sapling
rising to make acorns for Eurasian jay,
who will stockpile like there’s no

tomorrow, only a winter that stretches
time, or a summer that might incinerate
if you don’t shelter under spreading

leaves. I want to find this peace oak
without the GPS scavengers use
to collect points, to encompass

the memorials to conflict,
dead strewn on a battlefield
bigger even than Zola. But

I can't find my way through
the strips of lush vegetation
hiding houses and roads,

enclaves of middleclass
virtue in a locally peaceful world.
But the oak is tree in its own right

and it’s one hundred and forty-six years
of providing for tree creepers and jays,
insects and songbirds, a wayside

marker for the collectors of data,
is massive in its soothing effects:
the oxygen it makes, the carbon

it eats, the haunting of a stark
sky when leaves fertilise itself,
the compulsion to find the peace
outside such “politics,” such history.