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On the Virtue of the Dead TreeJorie Graham
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Vol. 32 No. 12 · 24 June 2010
Poem

On the Virtue of the Dead Tree

Jorie Graham

572 words

And that you hold the same one hawk each day I pass through my field
            up. And that it
            may choose its
            spot so
freely, from which to scan, and, without more than the wintry beguiling
            wingstrokes seeding
            the fields of air,
swoop. It feeds. There is no wasteland where the dead oak
            lives – my
            darling – up-
start vines on its trunk, swirling in ebblight, a desert of gone-silent
            cells – where another force is
            gleaming – tardy –
waning – summer or winter no longer
            truths, no prime, no
            year, no day where sun
            exists –
just a still-being-here in this small apparently silent multitudinous world of
            infinite yearning and
            killing and
sprouting – even now at the very start of the season – lengthening, in-
            visible in its
            cracking open of
pod – and push – like the first time we saw each other you and I –
            impatient immediately …
Blackness is the telephone wire – blackness the blissless instant-
            communication,
the twittering poverty killing behind and beneath and deep at the core of
            each screen, end-
            less, someone breaking someone’s
fingers – just now – hear their laughter – everyone in their prison – there in their human
            heart which
            they cannot
            for all the parting of flesh with
            cement-sluiced rubber
hose – and even the axe to the heart – reach – the fantasy of independence – es-
            cape. It wants them. It wants them to
            fly inside it. Fly it screams
            taser in
            hand. Prison is never
            going to be
over. Day as it breaks is the principal god, but with the hood on they cannot
            know this. Till it is finally sliced open the
            beating heart. Loved
            ones shall pay
            ransom
            for the body of
their child. To this, friend, the hero is the dead tree. Here in my field, mine.
I have forced it. I have paid for it. My money like a wind flowing over it.
Have signed the paperwork and seen my name there. And a cloud
            arrives from the East
            into it. And the prison
            grows too large to see.
            And it does not sing, ever,
my silent hawk, always there when I arrive, before it startles, on its chosen
            branch. And I think of
the dead-through trunk, the leafless limbs, the loosening of the
            deep-drying roots in the
living soil. And I slow myself to extend love to them. To their as-
            yet-still-sturdy
            rotting, and how they hold
            up this grey-blue
            poverty of once-sapflowing
            limbs, their once everywhere-turning
            branchings,
for my small hungry creature to glide from in his silence
            over the never-for-an-instant-not-working
            rows of new
            wheat. It is
good says my human soul to the crop. I will not listen for
            song anymore. I will
listen for how dark comes-on to loosen the cringing wavering
            mice from their dens and
how they creep up to the surfaces and out onto the surfaces and
            how the surfaces
yield their small grey velvet barely visible in the last glow
            to that part of the world
the dead tree sends forth. I have lived I
            say to the evening.
I have plenty of anger and am good and dry with late-breaking news. I
            am living.
And the iron door of the night creeps and clicks. And the
            madness of the day
hangs around restless at the edges of the last visible leaves
            with a reddish glow
            and moves them with tiny
            erratic swiftnesses and
the holy place shuts, baggy with evening, and here it is
            finally night
            bursting open
with hunt.

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