I basically only write non-fiction. Not just in my memoir. Even in my poems, I’m almost always just trying to say what happened, what I saw, or what I thought in a way that is both clear enough to understand and wide enough to invite you to see your own sights, think your own thoughts, remember your own experience through a new lens.
This week was no exception. The events in this poem really happened exactly as I described them. There really was once a tree. (If you live in my area, you might remember the beauty at the corner of 240 and Ribbon Ridge.) I really have been mourning its falling for years now. And I really had a shift in my awareness this week.
But if you live in my area or have listened to the stories of those who do, you might also think I wrote this as a thinly veiled allegory about the division and loss in the 140 year old faith community many of us called home, about the absence in the aftermath. Please believe me when I say this was not my intention. That I didn’t even see the connection until later. (The subconscious: she’s a wily one.)
I never write as allegory. I write because I glimpse something about the truth of things through paying attention to my daily life and I share in case you need a glimpse of truth, too.
So yes, there’s something of that story folded into the heart of this piece. But no, that’s not what it’s about. Poetry shouldn’t often be so simple as to be about anything. It’s about the what is, about what the writer notices, about what the reader sees when they read it. There are many stories woven into every happening.
Naming this feels like telling some of you not to think about a pink elephant. Not naming it feels like humming, “Pink elephant. Pink elephant,” into your ear. But I think transparency helps more than it hurts.
Now, if you want to read on, do me a favor.
Look up from your screen for a second.
Take a deep breath and hold it, just for a moment, in the place in your body where you sometimes feel at peace.
OK, carry on.
At the bend in the road
Where I turn to the left
There was once a giant oak
Tall trunk and rounded crown
A tree epitome
One day, years ago now
I rounded the corner and gasped
The perpetual tree had split in two
One half stood mangled and wounded
Sap oozing from the rend
One half lay in pieces on the ground
Over the next few months
I looked for the tree every time I drove by
Watched as the fallen fragments
Were scattered, removed, decayed
The next year, the remainder fell too
And I mourned both losses
Grieved anew at the absence
Every single time I passed
Seeing only what was no longer there
Blind to that which grew in its place
Today I looked past the ghost of the tree
Toward the field and the hills beyond
For the first time in a long time
I could see the sky
~Bethany Lee ©2019