Valerie Morton’s Mango Tree – poems, memoirs, cobras

My friend Valerie Morton’s Mango Tree was published in 2013 by Indigo Dreams Publishing. I’ve read this book several times, and it’s  got me thinking how effective poetry can  be as a form of memoir.  And how it can focus on emotional truths. Perhaps I’ll try writing my own  memoir sequence some day.
Valerie & I were chatting on the telephone recently about her book.  We talked about memory and how  and what we remember — wondering why we remember certain things when so many we don’t.  I asked Valerie why she structured Mango Tree  the way she did.
Valerie  replied —
Mango Tree is intended to be read in one sitting: it is a sequence of poems that builds into a personal memoir of a particular time and place and as such is written in a way that enables the reader to feel a part of this. It spans a short period of discovery and strengthening of love for a person and his country. From the first tentative steps of “Going Away” it rolls through a gambit of emotions to one of the pivotal poems of the collection “The Queue” when a sense of belonging and connection plants itself in the soil. From that point on there is a new understanding and awareness and eventually the pain of departure. What happens next is another story.

Valerie’s poem that she mentions as pivotal, “The Queue”,  can be read here at Peony Moon .  And be sure to read Valerie’s interview  with Abegail Morley at The Poetry Shed

Our mutual friend Karen Dennison was co-designer of  the beautiful cover of Valerie’s Mango Tree, and Karen also designed the front & back covers of my new poetry chapbook The Invisible Girl.

Mango Tree is a sequence of poems, and ideally that’s how it should be read — from beginning to end (so if you haven’t already, I recommend you consider  buying the book.)

But I asked Valerie, if I could include one of her poems here, and she said yes, and I’ve chosen “Mango Tree”.  Mangoes appear in at least two or three of the poems in the book.  But in the titular poem, a cobra also makes an appearance – snaking in and out of time. I like the poem because of the deft storytelling, the setting, the strong mix of emotions, and Valerie’s ability to say (and to suggest) so much with carefully chosen words. To me as a reader, this poem felt like a wormhole in time & space —a crucial point where anything might or might not happen.

Mango Tree

You take me to your village –
to the mango grove where
you’d met the cobra.

the village
His Village (photo by Valerie Morton)

You show me the place
where it slept in the heat
before unwinding

to a child’s height
and rocking
from side to side

in fury or confusion –
you didn’t stay long enough to find out.
I feel you hesitate

on the edge of the long grass
and my own feet refuse
to move, in case it’s been waiting

all those years,
to make certain
you and I could never be.


The snake is one of the primordial creatures, rich in symbolism.  I own a copy of this wonderful book The Book of Symbols – Reflections on Archetypal Images (The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism). Here’s an excerpt from the essay on snakes. It makes me think of Valerie’s poem where the snake is dangerous, mysterious, but also represents the opportunity for rebirth, and a new relationship —

Valiant, epiphanic and terrifying, snakes flare up out of the earth or from under leaf litter or rocks or the dark waters of rivers or the darkness of the psyche. The underworld realm of the dead that snakes mythically inhabit is also the fecund ground from which new life emerges, a place of healing, initiation and revelation, dominion of the ancient Great Goddess.

Indian-cobra-young-hatchingARKive on the Indian cobra.



  1. Thank you for this Elly – sometimes I read things and think “is that me”? I like the cobra link – interesting that they are described as ‘Valiant’ – apparently that’s what my name means 🙂 I enjoyed waking up to this today.

  2. I also love this book for its very deft phrasing and wording as you point out. I am grateful to you for drawing attention to the cobra and investigating the symbolism. I am going to go and re- read the book today.

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