Clouds and Trees

"Nothing ever goes away enough or arrives enough,/ and I want to cry when I think of my heart,/ muscle pounding in muscle, greedy always for joy." – 'A Warning', Eric Anderson

Category: Winter

bhlf

Rocks

Last night there was another storm and he could see patches of black ice on the road where the river must have flooded. The radio crackled quietly. He looked out the window and shifted down a gear. The water had been very high and further down the river there would be rapids.

He parked in the gravel lot. As he stepped out of the car he could smell the cold. The sunlight was grey but the sky bright blue and the river, dark green and brown. It was higher than he had ever seen it and thunderous, a static cupping his ears and a resounding deep bass far away, like a drum struck by god.

He stepped through the gate with the ROAD CLOSED sign. The gravel path had disappeared into the river; it looked as if the river had exploded. The trees along the bank had already been exposed completely, the dirt entirely stripped from their roots. The forest seemed naked, shivering. He had taken a walk here with his parents right after the big storm a few years earlier. He had been looking down at his feet, stepping carefully. He looked up; his dad was helping his mom over the rocks.

 

Two huge fisherman were walking towards him. They nodded as they passed. One was missing his arm above the elbow, the sleeve of his waders held closed against the water with a rubber-band.

He had come hoping to find a small island in the middle of the river. He remembered the rapids in that spot had risen to almost six feet. He had stared at those waves crashing in on themselves, his face wet, but never rushing forward until his parents had said they had to move on.

When he reached the spot where it used to be there was only water, flat and fast, water rushing straight through trees. He stared at it for a minute. He took a deep breath of cold air. Once, it had been warm and the water was lower; he had jumped across the rocks and stood on the island. As it started to rain lightly he had stripped and gone into the river.

 

Closer to the car, the water slowed into a wide curve and a dead tree jutted out from the bank. He remembered his Dad crouching on the edge and pointing.

“Right there is where I want you to scatter my ashes.”

“Okay, Dad,” He had tried to laugh, to clasp his shoulder naturally, “Not for awhile.” Just two men by the river. When he was younger they used to walk together here and he would find sticks to throw in. He ran along the edge racing them downstream as they dipped and bucked through the rapids until they blended with the water and he lost sight of them.

Hole in Blue

Dad is driving me home from the train.
“That hawk dive-bombed the window
and died on the table. I got rid of it.”

I think of garbage, our bones. I walk down
To the edge of the woods. No power;
I can’t use the toilet. Our ground is hollow:

Years of Dad seeding grass, grubs
Eating roots, Dad poisoning them.
Nothing dies, just hollows out.

We never begin that tree-house, broken
Glass grown into the ground, bits of sky
Reflected as in lakes seen from your plane

Crashing over Minnesota.
I am at my friend’s house, doing laundry,
I tell him how I sat in the yard playing

And how that hawk cawed with me.
I wanted to see its eggs then, to know
it found a mate around my house.

I come back a year later. A few days
Feeling hopeless until I see a hawk
Against white, winter sky. A baby,

Alive. How old could it have been?
I want to speak to it, to tell it I’m sorry
for living here and leaving it empty.

Trees

Everywhere he looked, something had changed. In part it was the trees that had fallen over the stream at unfamiliar angles. The water was running low over the rocks now. It would be freezing if he touched it. His parents had already gone five days without power. He flexed his toes in his boots and stood up, brushing the dirt off of his pants.

He walked out of the woods onto the newly paved driveway, stepping as much as he could in the old gravel on its edges. When he reached the end he looked to the left. The road curved away and out of sight.

He put his hand on the wishbone tree next to the driveway. He looked up one trunk, up through to the white sky. The other had been chopped at about chest height. He ran his palm along the stump where the bark lipped over. There had been a car crash. He pulled himself up onto the slanted surface and crouched awkwardly. He thought he must look like a wood gargoyle.

He tried to remember standing in the insurance office, his mother high above him. She described the deer jumping out in front of the car, her defensive swerve. She was sweating, he was sweating. The insurance man nodded, looking down at something. “We get a lot of these this time of year. They get very aggressive during mating season.” She agreed. No big deal.

He slid off the tree and started walking back along the gravel. Of course it hadn’t been a deer. He didn’t remember the rest. She had probably explained it to him.

He smiled strangely as he cut back into the woods, feeling his teeth. He thought about bones he had found out here. Sometimes turtle shells with the tiny spine still inside. Sometimes small bird bones, or just empty circles of feathers. Sometimes fur, once so much it covered a whole clearing. Coyotes, he thought, but did not really know. One time he found a whole deer skull, broken in places. He had stood over it in silence, debating whether or not he wanted to bring it home. His parents told him there were germs on bones. It was always best to leave them where you found them.

Windows

The ceiling was perfectly flat. The corners exact, no paint misplaced. Nothing wrong. He rolled his head to the left. Underneath the fridge there were silhouettes of dirt, balls of dust, lost food. Maybe the floor. What had it been? When he was standing there a moment before something had been off. He had gotten to his knees and rubbed his thumb against the floor tile. That hadn’t helped. He had remembered the technique his mother had taught him for finding small things; he pressed his cheek against the cold white tile and still, nothing seemed wrong. He was glad he had laid down.

“Where are you?” Her voice came out of the bedroom. There was some kind of shuffling, she must be getting dressed. “Someone called you.”

He leaned his head back. He could see the sky even though the window shade was mostly down. It looked warm and blue but he knew it would be freezing. She walked through the door zipping up the side of her dress. “Where are you?”

“Who called?”

“Jesus Christ,” Her face seemed to burst then almost instantly close; lines formed in between her eyebrows. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Did you pick it up or did it go to voicemail?”

She shook her head, “I don’t know, I didn’t see.”

He nodded. “There’s something weird about the kitchen. Are you going out?”

“I’m going to Midtown. Are you just going to stay there? I need to get something.”

He shuffled to the side and she stepped over him. As she reached up and began rifling through the cabinet her heels lifted off the floor, the veins in her ankles visible and thick through the skin. He almost reached out and grabbed them.

“Here we go.” She stepped down and walked into the bathroom, not bothering to turn the light on. He could hear the water running. He took a deep breath and sighed loudly.

She came out of the bathroom and stood over him. “I’m going down to Midtown, is there anything you need? There’s your phone again.” It was buzzing in the bedroom. She handed it to him.

“Okay, I’m going, you don’t need anything?” He shook his head, holding the buzzing phone. “I’ll probably be back in a couple of hours, give me a call if you think of anything.”

The door closed.

He laid there for a minute. The phone was still buzzing. He had been clasping it over his chest. After awhile it stopped. He put it down on the tile next to the fridge.

He brought up his knees and groaned. Most of his backside had fallen asleep. He used the counter to pull himself up. He stood there for a second, getting his bearings. The room was worse now than it had been earlier. It was tilted, as if he had just been dizzy. He went over to the window. The streets outside looked as if they slanted strangely away. A familiar flock of pigeons flew by. They dipped by the window in the exact same way at least once every day. He always caught it out of the corner of his eye. They never changed. The same flock, the same swoop. He rapped his fingertips on the glass, bitten fingernails making an unsatisfying thumping sound. There were millions of windows in New York City. More windows than there were people. Most windows must not be seen at all. Might as well just be walls.

The Future of Our Race

Look at the windows:
Colored pairs!
Shivering,
the trees
melt light.
You can forget
windows and walls
and fall into (love
with) the ground.

Guide to Natural Life

When you live in a rural area of England for enough time you eventually find the best places from which to watch sunsets. You wonder about them as you walk home to your apartment, peering through the new darkness. It is like there is something on your mind; the corners of your eyes are sensitive to places where you can sit and look to the West.

It is easy to see the horizon; England only hides very little things. Sit by a river or a lake where you can watch the sun be enveloped by water. Stand on the eastern edge of a field sloping to the West.

English birds don’t notice when the end of day has come. You hear songs which until just now you did not realize you thought of as holy prayers for the sun. You walk home in the dark and see wings shuffling in the tree-branches.

If some islands are the loci of certain seasons, (you can think of a few — Antarctica: Winter, Hawaii: Summer) then England is the Spring. It is made up of small animals and lovemaking done underground or behind grass and trees.

You know the patches of daffodils that bloom earliest and where the sun sits the longest. You wonder if it is as easy to see it set back in America where glacial valleys are so deep you forget a real horizon exists.

You floated from time. You have to come back in and it will lurch painfully. You saw an endpoint and just beyond it, a land burned flat, red and blue where the day ends. The sun is everywhere.

Trees …from A Portrait of a Bird

Everywhere he looked, something had changed. The angles of the trees fallen over the stream looked unfamiliar. He could barely recognize this part of the woods. When he had gotten home a few days earlier, his parents had already gone five days without power.

The stream was low, barely running over the rocks. The water would be freezing if he touched it. He flexed his toes in his boots and stood up, brushing the dirt off of his pants. He looked again at the oddness of the trees, paused, then did not walk down the stream as he had planned.

He stepped out of the woods onto the newly paved driveway. He avoided walking on the asphalt, instead stepping as much as he could in the gravel along its edges. When he reached the end of the driveway he looked to the left. The road curved away, down the hill and out of sight.

He put his hand on the tree next to the driveway which split into two trunks. One had been chopped through completely, leaving a smooth stump at about chest height. He looked up the length of tree that remained, up through to the white sky. It was like a used wishbone. He ran his palm along the stump where the bark lipped over. The scar was almost the same grey-brown as the bark. There had been a car crash, then eventually an electrical fire. He pulled himself up onto the slanted surface and crouched awkwardly. He thought he must look like a wood gargoyle.

He tried to remember standing in the insurance office, his mother high above him. She described the deer that had jumped out in front of the car, her defensive swerve. She was sweating, he was sweating. The insurance man nodded, looking down at something. “We get a lot of these this time of year. They get very aggressive during mating season.” She agreed. No big deal.

He slid off the tree and started walking back along the gravel. Of course it hadn’t been a deer. He didn’t remember the rest. She had probably explained it to him.

He smiled strangely as he cut back into the woods, feeling his tongue with his teeth. He thought about bones he had found out here. Sometimes turtle shells with the tiny spine still inside. Sometimes small bird bones, or just empty circles of feathers. Sometimes fur, once so much it covered a whole clearing. Coyotes, he had thought, but did not really know. One time he found a whole deer skull, broken in places. He had stood over the skull in silence, debating whether or not he wanted to touch it, whether he wanted to bring it home. His parents told him there were germs on bones. It was always best to leave them where you found them.

As the house and yard came into view he thought about the tree again. For years after they had taken it down he found stacks of logs all around the woods. He would arrange them in the fireplace. They ignited instantly. Now they would all be rotting or fused together with ice, and he would walk past them without noticing. Eventually, they would disappear on their own.

Windows …from A Portrait of a Bird

The ceiling was perfectly flat. The corners were exact, no paint misplaced, nothing visibly wrong. He rolled his head to the left. Underneath the fridge there were silhouettes of dirt, balls of dust, lost food. Maybe the floor was imperfect. What had been wrong? When he had been standing there a moment before something had been off. He had gotten to his knees and rubbed his thumb against the floor tile. That hadn’t helped. He had remembered the technique his mother had taught him for finding small things. With his cheek pressed against the cold white surface he still hadn’t been able to see anything. He was glad he had laid down.

“Where are you?” Her voice came out of the bedroom. There was some kind of shuffling, she must be getting dressed. “Someone called you.”

He leaned his head back. He could see the sky even though the window shade was mostly down. It looked warm and blue but he knew it would be freezing. She walked through the door zipping up the side of her dress. “Where are you?”

“Who called?”

“Jesus Christ,” Her face seemed to burst then almost instantly close; lines formed in between her eyebrows. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Did you pick it up or did it go to voicemail?”

She shook her head, “I don’t know, I didn’t see.”

He nodded, approving. “There’s something weird about the kitchen. Are you going out?”

“I’m going to Midtown. Are you just going to stay there? I need to get something.”

He shuffled to the side and she stepped over him. As she reached up and began rifling through the cabinet her heels lifted off the floor, the veins in her ankles visible and thick through the skin. He almost reached out and grabbed them.

“Here we go.” She stepped down and walked into the bathroom, not bothering to turn the light on. He could hear the water running. He took a deep breath and sighed loudly.

She came out of the bathroom and stood over him. “I’m going down to Midtown, is there anything you need? There’s your phone again.” It was buzzing in the bedroom. She handed it to him.

“Okay, I’m going, you don’t need anything?” He shook his head, holding the buzzing phone. “I’ll probably be back in a couple of hours, give me a call if you think of anything.” He heard the door close.

He laid there for a minute. The phone was still buzzing. He had been clasping it over his chest the entire time. After awhile it stopped. He put it down on the tile next to the fridge.

He brought up his knees and groaned. Most of his backside had fallen asleep. He used the counter to pull himself up. He stood there for a second, getting his bearings. The room was worse now than it had been earlier. It was tilted, as if he had just been dizzy. He went over to the window. The problem was no different outside, the streets looked like they slanted strangely away. A familiar flock of birds, probably pigeons, flew by. They dipped and looped by the window in the exact same way at least once every day. He always caught it out of the corner of his eye. They never changed. The same flock, the same swoop. Maybe they flew all around the city in this pattern and everyone else always saw them out of their own windows, flying in the exact same way. Stuck in a loop. He rapped his fingertips on the glass, bitten fingernails making an unsatisfying thumping sound. There were millions of windows in New York City. More windows than there were people. At any given moment, were more windows being seen into, or out of? Most windows must not be seen at all. Might as well just be walls.