“I am a native but not exactly at home,” says the speaker near the end of “The Song of the Weed Witch,” a declaration that echoes through Jeff Gundy’s Spoken among the Trees. Gundy is restless in body and spirit—and in poetic form—a compulsive explorer through the flatlands of Ohio and Indiana. On one level, he seeks out “the green, astonishing world” abuzz with birds and water and wind through the trees. On another level, he looks to the immediate sensations of nature for spiritual clues, entrances into the realm beyond blue jays and pines. But, as he drolly says in “The Recovery of Imaginary Friends,” “The guidebook of holy places lacks directions.”
Spoken among the Trees may hunger after moments of recognition and release, but not with the chill pallor of pietism. These poems mingle the romantic and ironic; they tell jokes and light up a scene with the flash of an incandescent phrase. Titles offer delights of their own, as in “June Report with Suppressed Geese and Sweatbees,” or this collision of the sublime and the mundane, “Soul Travel at the Electric Brew, Goshen, Indiana” (with another statement of Gundy’s restless theme: “If I could, I would live everywhere for a little while”). Spoken among the Trees is a book to live with, companionable even as it challenges easy beliefs and resists the overly earnest with a warm wit. Jeff Gundy’s intricate and musical poems are wise in their humility, as probing as they are sweetly reasonable.