The Falling of Trees

The Falling of Trees was written in 2007. It was a collaboration between my younger brother Lars and me, created in honor of our older brother Karl, who died from brain cancer in 1998. (Tragically, the same awful disease claimed Lars 20 years later.) Lars wrote the four poems and I wrote the music, including the prelude that preceded the four songs. Here are the texts:


by Lars Nielsen

I. Mines

Stare at me, brother,

Give me your poor refugee thoughts,

Repeat them, and yet forget.

Repeat them, and yet forget.

Your mind frightens,

But your thoughts are not weapons.

We will not bury them.

We will not ban them.

Stare at me, brother.

Others will not travel your jagged crags and sudden drops.

I am not afraid.

Stare at me, brother.

Others avoid you, but I embrace the twists and turns of your trail.

I rejoice in the eddies of your waters,

as we sink into the deep pools of your mind.

Stare at me, brother.

Wander with me through shared memory,

Insist on the peace beyond.

I am not afraid.

II. Hockey

Wheelchair-bound, only your lips grin; only your mind moves.

But once you roamed free.

Long ago, you were the ice’s happy warrior, relentlessly graceful.

Your stick and skates pointed the way toward the joys of the cold.

I remember the ice.

Stretched tight over the swamp,

a fevered glow above the ground’s sunken cheeks.

The clack-clack of our curved sticks echoed over the sun-glared corridor.

Divorced from the ground,

our skates paid alimony with their single spare blades.

Like stir-fry boys on our frozen skillet,

Our smoke-still breath rose to the sky.

III. The Appointment

My car slithered up your ice-covered hill.

Half-dressed, half-remembering, you meet me at the door.

Brother, we’re already late.

You tell the doctor that drawing blood hurts.

The pain burns like a beacon in your brain-fog:

Something lives there,

something hard,

something that grows.

A black-flagged pirate ship’s boarded and captured you,

hijacking memory even of needle-induced pain.

I drive you away,

chattering to keep you warm, but my heart glazes over.

I have made you a stranger, a remnant, now a husk

IV. The Elder’s Loud Smile

I wasn’t ready to outlive my elder.

Not changing your diapers, as you lay,

Not hoisting you, tugging and turning you in your bed.

Not whispering in your ear: “You can let go now.”

I wasn’t ready to outlive my elder.

At the end, you remembered long-ago levees breaking,

but not the falling of nearby trees.

But you know where you are going now.

Ages ago, we fell to earth, and you helped me from the ground.

Someday in the sky, the divine roar of your pleasure will shock generations,

As you take my hand and tug me, your joyous apprentice, to race among the stars.

This performance comes from the May 26, 2019 event that commemorated Lars as a writer, the same event that featured A Psalm for a New Year. The performers are baritone Thomas Beard and the Northern Third Quartet. Here is a link: