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Bonsai

You carry the tree home to me

like a baby from a house about

to burn. It was the potential

for fire that drew me to you,

though now, as you hand over

this gift I’ve longed for, I

worry if I can share my life

with something else so needy.

I study the instruction book: direct

light, lots of water, human breath,

and, every day, hands placed on

the moss at the base of the trunk.

Touch. Talk. I can do this. I am

determined this tree will live,

though when I discover aphids, tufts

of cotton caught in the leaves

like tiny laundry blown by a storm,

I panic, pick up the phone —

I am not afraid to say I need

help. The woman at the nursery

calms me: This happens, she says. Don’t

worry so much. I try — yet spraying

insecticide, I think if junipers had eyes,

this one would be crying like a child

in the tub. I’m told I did the same

as a baby — screamed as my mother

scrubbed my face raw, baffled by

the indelible dirt on my cheeks

until my sister, to my rescue,

realized they were freckles.

My mother never had a child

with freckles until I came along,

as I never had a bonsai with brown

spot — another phone call and soon I’m

mixing vitamins, spraying for lush color,

praying for leaves that spring back

when squeezed between forefinger and thumb.

When I must go away, I call long-distance —

Is it drinking enough, getting lots of sun?

Don’t leave it in the sink unattended;

it likes to be read to. I need you to say

everything is going to be all right,

say the tree is fine. Your voice across

the wire is a rain I’ve needed

for years; I tilt back my head,

softening into a girl only you have

recognized. The tree’s body contains

what I can’t yet explain.

When I am home, you pick me up, carry

me to the bedroom. Your skin smells

faintly of juniper. We burst in a heat

so green it singes my eyelashes.

from An Unkindness of RavensFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2001
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

Published in Meg Kearney Poems

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