Speaking of Trees
Sometimes my brother and I
pressed our foreheads against
the window in our mother's office
and watched the college students in the courtyard below.
Heavy backpacks, heads down.
Arms around girlfriends.
Smokers standing in a circle.
My favorite was a girl who had her
hands in her pockets in a cool way
that was perfectly unconcerned with anyone else.
I practiced her later in the bathroom
though my pockets were too shallow to
play the part well.
We’d scrounge for coins and slink
off to buy snacks from the vending machines
while our mother taught a freshman composition class.
Honeybuns, Three Musketeers, Funyans.
We’d sit in the back row of the theater
on the first floor and eat silently
while students practiced their lines
on the wide, wooden stage.
Sometimes we drew on the chalkboard
of an empty classroom.
Trees were my specialty.
When someone poked
half a body in the classroom,
my brother would jerk his curly head
toward the watcher and say, smiling:
Is really good at drawing trees.
Tried not to smile
as big as my heart felt.
I was no tree-drawing genius,
but I was in love with the metaphor.
Of trees. Still am.
The tangle of limbs, the bark,
The hole, home to something peering out.
I was drawn to the context of each of my trees.
Sometimes I’d draw tall mountains behind the tree
Or hang a swing on the one chunky big limb
Reaching out awkwardly from the trunk.
Sometimes I would lean a person against the tree.
The college students seemed so old to me.
Now I know they were babies
finding their way in the forest world.
Can we ever say we are wise?
Like the oldest tree whose roots
connect to everything else?
In elementary school
I began to daydream about what it would
be like to be other girls.
To be Amanda with
her perfect handwriting
and big three-story, window-seat house.
I’d press my forehead against the window
watch her get off the bus
watch her mother open the door.
Her little fluffy dog would greet her.
My insides burst with want.
I’d watch Shannon with her messy short blond hair
And bright blue eyes. Boys liked her. I liked her.
Or did I want to be her?
Sometimes I thought
I could pass for a college student
If I wore my backpack
when my brother
and I lurked around.
Though I was as tall as a short woman,
I didn’t think about the fact that my
backpack was bright purple
and that I wore pink
Reeboks or clear jellies and short feathered hair.
I didn’t think about the fact that
I had no boobs or curves
and would be seen as exactly as I was: nine.
I realized something months ago
when I was in a curl of grief:
I am still on the stage of a different life
haunted by the ghosts of that life.
And no one is on the stage with me.
No one is in the audience, not
even a couple of grubby kids
snacking on Funyans.
Speaking of trees,
I want to pull their contentment
into my core.
The way they exist in an economy of abundance
The way they don’t look at other trees
and wonder why they can’t be slimmer, thicker
taller, home to more creatures or less.
They don’t want to be a different species.
They don’t wonder why they can’t move.
Or whether it would be more exciting
to be a gray heron.
They don’t have nightmares
and people in hard hats.
They don't google
the effects of
They don’t long for
or wonder why more birds flock
to the pine forest across the river.
At one time the play
that I was acting in was relevant,
crucial to my existence,
seemingly the only way
I want to be what my brother saw
in me in that classroom
so many years ago.
Before I fully accepted
and memorized a script
handed to me and adapted -
as the years moved along,
wrote me clear out.
As I look out the window,
I see that my garden is moving
On to another stage.
The lettuce has gone to seed
and ungodly tall.
This is the new script I’m working on.
Me, in a garden.
Me, a leaf NOT held down.
Accepting the wonders
of this new life
that I have only partially chosen.
The part I chose is no
more reason to blame myself
than the unforgiveness I carry
for the parts I did not choose.
Me, not comparing
to other species of women.
Me, not wishing
for a smarter brain
Not expecting ease where not earned.
Not expecting what is not.
Me, a badass bitch
who will not be on
anyone else's stage.
Unless the stage is Brandi Carlile's.
I'd be up for just standing there.
As a visitor.
Me, not hovering around the wreckage
of my former life like a ghost.
Let the trees be our teachers,