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.