Riehlife Poem of the Day: John Daniel’s “Joshua Tree” from COMMON GROUND…poet of earth & place

Joshua Tree photo by Michael Reichmann

“Joshua Tree” is from Common Ground (Confluence Press, 1988). These poems deal with experience, nature, the past, reading, solitude, travel, the seasons, aging, friendship, and identity. Click here for complete list of publications.



by John Daniel

These bent trees that Mormons saw
as the prophet waving, waving the way
through desolation to a better land

I see as hunched arthritic geezers,
ballerinas, monks who’ve long forgotten
how not to pray, and I’d have to watch

until mice made a home in my skull
to stop seeing man—as if to be real
they have to be human, as if

these shaggy trunks, these spike-leaves
stirring in steady dry wind
showed any way except their own,

as if this rocky sand they rise from
half an inch a year, the only trees,
this soil that gives them all they need

to put forth clumps of heavy bloom,
each limbtip bursting in creamy flower,
as if this ground they’re rooted in

were not itself the promised land.


Review of Common Ground
Western American Literature
Vol. 24, no. 3. Fall 1989
Review by Ona Siporin

“Common ground” is a phrase used by Wendell Berry in his essay, “Standing by Words.” As a title, it gives the reader an intimation of John Daniel’s colleagues in the literary world and of his perspective on poetry. Like Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry, Daniel is concerned with living in place and with honoring and celebrating the wholeness of creation.

Click here to read the rest of Ona Siporin’s inspiriting review of John Daniel’s “Common Ground.”

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