All night the roots work
to disengage themselves from the cracks
in the veranda floor.
The leaves strain toward the glass
small twigs stiff with exertion
long-cramped boughs shuffling under the roof
like newly discharged patients
half-dazed, moving
to the clinic doors.
Adrienne Rich talks about how the artificial trees that have the only benefit of being a showpiece are of no use to anyone around it. So they have all started coming out and moving toward where they belong. But inside the confined spaces of the house, they do not have space to move or live. So they decide that they have had enough and decide to leave. But it is not a simple process. So they have to work overnight to prepare for the hectic journey.
They have been embedded so hard in the soil in the house that it is difficult to uproot them. The first step to getting out is understanding that one is in trouble. Only when one acknowledges their difficulties they come with a plan to overcome them. The trees have had a strong foundation in the cracks of the house as they have been there for years together. They are kept mostly in the verandah to attract the people who pass by. So they disengage from the verandah floors slowly and try to creep forward. The poet also talks about the leaves of the tree straining toward the glass. The reference to glass here makes us understand that the trees have been kept in a greenhouse. A greenhouse is a structure with walls and roof made chiefly of transparent material, such as glass, in which plants requiring regulated climatic conditions are grown. People mostly have greenhouses to grow decorative and seasonal trees.
Roots cracking
The greenhouse is an enclosed space, and trees are used to grow in open spaces. It is very similar to a man held captive inside a small box. He might find it cramped and suffocating. His hands and legs might become stiff when held in the same position. Similarly, the trees also have stiff twigs due to the exertion of pressure on them. They are not allowed to grow beyond a height. Tree boughs are supposed to look good with an arc. But now they are cramped and shuffled inside the house. The poet gives a beautiful metaphor as she says the trees trying to come out of the house are similar to the patients who are newly discharged from the hospital. They look dazed and out of place, just like patients moving out of clinic doors.
Words with difficult meanings:
DisengageSeparate or release from something
CracksTo break something
VerandahThe front yard of a house
StrainFinding it difficult
TwigsA thin branch of a tree
ExertionPush or pull harder that makes one tired
CrampedHaving no space
BoughsMain thick branch of a tree
ShuffledMove around
DischargedTo be allowed to leave
Half-dazedVery surprised, or shocked
National Council of Educational Research and Training (2006). Beehive. The Trees - Adrienne Rich (pp. 99-101). Published at the Publication Division by the Secretary, National Council of Educational Research and Training, Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi.