Paisley Rekdal



Before the boy was born, he dreamed

  • of a child asleep beside a tree, fireflies 
  • flecking the watery dark. 
  • He remembers this now, standing
  • with his four-year-old before the ancient
  • oak outside their house, the tree
  • so root-brittle that when the windstorm scoured 
  • the block’s shaggy lanes of pine and maple, 
  • its copper trunk split as the tree heaved up, 
  • taking with it stones and flowerbeds, half 
  • their tiny yard. Up and down the block, 
  • trees beached themselves onto cars 
  • and blacktop, the great roots 
  • yawed up in knots, trunks like longboats 
  • run aground. The man has taken his son 
  • to see them: the giants, his son 
  • calls them, snapped like matchsticks 
  • in the wind. Though it wasn’t only wind 
  • that did this. The fact was humans 
  • caused a drought, which worsened heat, 
  • which brought sand storms up the coast, changed 
  • the very current of the ocean, which means
  • hurricanes and even floods now 
  • at the doorsteps of strangers, like dogs 
  • flushing a wounded grouse to ground.
  • They had done this: it was astonishing 
  • to the man how passively they’d worked 
  • such violence, that what they loved, 
  • desire destroyed. But of course, 
  • this was beyond the boy, and to tell him now 
  • would diminish his sense of security.
  • For a moment the man considers telling the boy 
  • about his dream to distract him, the image
  • of a child sleeping so sweetly that a tree 
  • might fall in love with him. But even thinking
  • of this image, it starts its change. The tree,
  • having fallen in love with the boy, wraps him
  • in its roots, the little boy fetal in its embrace, curled
  • there in the semblance of sleep, hoping that the tree 
  • might tire of him and let him go. But the tree
  • will not let the boy go. It holds him tight
  • and tighter till he cries, until the boy begins 
  • to beg for his release. But the tree 
  • only thickens around him, grows 
  • off its feeding until his hair turns white and fine 
  • as orchid root, and bog moss fills 
  • the sockets of his cheeks. The man knows 
  • he cannot tell his son this story, 
  • yet he can’t help but imagine it, a boy 
  • cauled by bark and leaf until one day 
  • a woodcutter comes into the forest
  • to harvest it. And saws 
  • and hacks at the rotten base, toppling it
  • as all the oaks now in their neighborhood 
  • have toppled—lost, the man tells his son 
  • who asks, because the neighbors
  • forgot to water them—sheared off in a wall 
  • of mud and root that looms over them: 
  • the great roots heaved up in a fist with a boy’s 
  • knotted remnants inside (the man seeing this 
  • clearly, even as he tries not to see it) like a stone 
  • entwined in rope perhaps, or the head of an enemy 
  • raised after battle. 

PAISLEY REKDAL is the author, most recently, of Imaginary Vessels (Copper Canyon Press).

Issue Two
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