(Click the link for an audio recording of me reading this poem.)
Rise out and stretch, fiercely up, into the sky,
Her roots, wounds, winding deep, into the earth,
Yes, her roots go,
All the way to China,
Deeper even than her entire height, so much
Deeper than the tips of her furthest branches.
How did she become blackened to begin with, this ancient barren tree,
Born of the earth and sky, endless waxing and waning moons,
Child of sun, and clouds heavy with the burden of unlet rains?
She is almost indefinable now, old and scarred,
Not a bird visits her branches, not a Nuthatch nor Pileated Woodpecker
Climbs up her sooty bark. Not a Paper Wasp alights on a leaf, no Little White Lichen Moth, no Faithful Beauty Caterpillar
Not a single squirrel would dare to go near.
Is she coniferous or deciduous?
She is not a Black Cherry, she is not a Black Walnut,
She is not a Black Spotted Lime Tree.
Where on this planet does she grow?
What did she survive?
She was not born from an accidental blob of black paint,
Not even imagination, barely conscious gestures of a small female hand. No,
She was born with the body of girl, and she knows what this means,
In her blood and bone and lymph, in her memories of long ago,
Mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, all the way back thousands of years
She knows, just as-she-knows as-she-knows her aging reflection in the mirror,
She-knows her face in the glass,
Once there was Matriarchy,
Matrilineal, everything was about The Great Mother.
Long long ago men honored and revered Woman,
The female deity who created life.
Then, they did not murder women,
In the town square then
Eons before she came to be A Great Blackened Tree,
Men took the earth, they took women and the girls,
Took their lives, took their bodies, took
Their hearts and souls and spirits,
Reached into the depths of their wombs
To do what they would.
It has been my endless night-mare, my mare of my night,
The horse that never came to take me away.
I can’t believe I’m still having this dream,
This ancient dream, this dream of All Women.
I thought I was done with these monsters.
No, in this world
We are never done.
In my dream I kill a man, a neighbor,
Because on his lap, down, down, at the bottom of my drive, way, the way, the way
Both up and down, he is sitting, sitting on an
Adirondack chair, with two girls on his lap. He smiles,
Asks me how I am.
The one on the bottom, her face is contorted in pain, grimaced with
Great and profound suffering.
As long as one woman is being raped we are all being raped, one woman
Beaten we are all bruised.
He is pretending nothing is happening, that his penis is not inside the vagina of
This girl. In my dream he is a white man and they are dark, of color, yes,
Spanish, Indian, South American, African, Asian, not bleached white by containment,
by generations of living in cold snowy climates.
She is that girl in India, who just died after an unimaginable assault,
Getting on a bus to go home after the movies.
This is in all of our collective unconsciousness, every woman,
We all cringed and cried and grieved for this girl,
This beautiful Indian girl, who surely knew, as we all know,
The texture of the bark, the leafless branches, the blackened tree, but
She only thought she was taking a bus home, with a friend, that night.
I cannot remember what happened,
When I woke I did not want to remember.
All I know is that I did something to stop him, and
In doing this, I killed him.
I who am so aware of life.
I, who carefully capture and carry insects outside of my house.
I, who hold songbirds in my hand, sobbing, when they have flown into the glass.
It was all blackness, all
© Susan Gesmer
The Blackened Tree