Florilegium: The Overstory

Delaware Towpath

Since about halfway through its 500 pages, I’ve been unable to stop thinking about Richard Powers’ recent novel, The Overstory. It’s about…well, that’s complicated, but here’s how the publisher condenses it. And here’s the author: “The whole book is a simple question: What would it take to make you give the unquestioning sacredness that you give to humanity to other things?”

I’m thinking about the themes, oh certainly, but their delivery method is what’s caught me and held: this language, like a burr in the sock, like feather-winged samaras fluttering into every crack.

With a work like this, I do what I’ve done for years: underline the sparkly bits for reading over later — or, in the case of a library book, sticky-note them. By the time I finished The Overstory, my borrowed copy was bristling with blue sparklets. I call them sparklets in a tradition of the medieval reading practice of florilegia, which my own habit closely resembles.

Inspired by a favorite podcast, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, I’ve lately begun to place my sparklets in varying combinations, creating new texts — found poems — from their interweavings.

Here’s my florilegium from The Overstory. Please note that everything below was written not by me, but by Richard Powers. Only the punctuation and the ordering are mine. (If you’re reading this on your phone, please tilt for landscape orientation. Formatting is weird.)


Consciousness itself is a flavor of madness;

sleep, that nightly place of plantlike deliverance.

La ruta nos aportó otro paso natural.

The equation electrifies.


Places remember what people forgot:

that great basin between question & claim,

the green negation of all careers.

Life will not answer to reason.


The sturgeon moon rises over the lake like a pale

red penny, water cold enough to kill all pain.

Memory is always a collaboration in progress.

All that’s left to sell up here is nostalgia.


Decent people loving the land in irreconcilable ways:

maybe mass extinction justifies a little fuzziness.

Revelation collapses into consumer electronics.

The tree feels no need to reply.


People will be discovering medicines here

for as long as they go on looking.

Reason is just another weapon of control.

What do all good stories do?


They kill you a little. They turn you into

something you weren’t.

The goal of growing the world,

instead of yourself.


Life is so generous, and we are so…inconsolable.

It takes some time to grow new beliefs

to replace the ones that fall.

Do nothing – nothing at all, and do it


for far less time than you might think.

Seeds remember the seasons of their childhoods.

It’s a Christmas of lignin. Old, lost friends.

Every branch smells of deliverance.


You have a right to be astonished.

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