Story of a Tree

I loved this tree.
South of San Antonio,
west of the heart,
growing in the ravines
of the Pecos River
inside me, down across
the Rio Grande and up
into the Llano’s staked plains,

tree of memory, tree of ghosts, tree of rain—

under birdsong whispers
you cradled me in your canopy.
When I was a baby, I stroked
the soft hair on your leaves.

You were my first true church,
and when rains came
our whole bodies shook
and shimmered with God’s words.

You let me bury 
all my secrets in your dirt
and sleep in your altar
as we drifted through stars.

Forgive me, Tree, for humiliating you.

I kicked at your bark. Spit on you.

Tree, I cut you 
and carved cruel words
on you in reverse
in my rough, crooked cursive,
with a rusted green knife
I stole from a bitch,
scarring your sacred skin.

I burned you with a lighter
shaped like a cowboy boot,
left bird dogs tied to you
for days on end, let drill sergeants
in training from the nearby base
lash out and practice on you.

I let belly-gods, plug-ugly bruisers,
devouring cowboys and butchers
stuff themselves into me,
hog-tie me whole and slap me
around as you watched.

When I laughed and made
animal sounds, I scared you.
I chewed you out. Made fun of you.

I used toxins and poisons 
to make you immaculate.
I wanted you perfect.

I nailed a no-trespassing sign
and a big security light to your side.
I sold pieces of you off.

I abandoned you.
I abandoned myself.

All around us the underground world overflows with love.

Season after season you return,
sap rising up from your roots,

unfinished, always becoming.

I defended against love

for as long as I could

until I couldn’t.

You no longer have to hide your self in your deepest self.
You no longer need the ones you thought you most needed.

I know I am not good
at this, or anything really, but I’m trying.

Roll on, roll on, roll on—

Tonight, I’m wearing a red dress,
under a man’s honeyed mouths and tent.

Your red flowers open and crown
and cover us in a Sunday of pollens.

And when I press my ear
to your thickness,
to your heart, I hear:
bells, bells, bells.

Catherine Bowman, "Story of a Tree" from Can I Finish, Please?.  Copyright © 2016 by Catherine Bowman.  Reprinted by permission of Four Way Books, www.fourwaybooks.com.
Source: Can I Finish, Please? (Four Way Books, 2016)
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