Volume 28, Number 1

Like a Glowing Fire, after War

Salix discolor, Ilex opaca, Sambucus canandensis, and Crataegus viridis

Were we velvet-leaves or hairy blues, greens or holidays,
if many of them called us pussies? Or did we stand as winter kings,
American elders, dwarfs, those trees of music, even then?

In the encroaching absence, were we logged Canada to Delaware,
evergreens (golden stamens, greenish pistils, willows) compelled
by warm water to blush midwinter? Or were we more shrub

than tree, twice budding in every second wind, tufts bursting,
swaying soft with silver? Between the tin of sweets and eggnog,
were we nothing but (wreaths, sprigs, drupes, clusters) decorations

for the holiday when the chill converged? Or were we the green spine,
garlands climbing a banister, the forests in miniature? Were we
sheered into thousands of whitish hands, then made into tea?

Or were we flowers held at heartwood, wherever the trunk clinched?
Were we suckers for any who pulled out our spongy pith to make toys?
Living on the waning shoreline, were we just easy to be rolled into pies?

Or were we the old wisdom cures, remedies, and brews
that when sipped stopped the source of ache? Can we remember
the stories told of us? Or can we tell the story of ourselves?

If we were as annual as the seasons (seed, water, tend, harvest),
there was never rest for us then. If we stood like a private army
that lined the roads of their territory, we were forced to remain

(flower, bore, fell). If we were a home front in their war plan,
converted into use (hard rigging, whomp of handle as it met flesh,
wooden barrels made of close-range assault), we were the costs.

But if we were what cupped thousands of lakes, what held
lands by a subterranean network of kin, what shared resources
(minerals, nutrients, water), and all of the rest was surface damage only.

—Laura Madeline Wiseman