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  • Writer's pictureaeraustol

Speaking of Trees

Sometimes my brother and I

pressed our foreheads against

the window in our mother's office

and watched the college students in the courtyard below.

Heavy backpacks, heads down.

Arms around girlfriends.

Smokers standing in a circle.

My favorite was a girl who had her

hands in her pockets in a cool way

that was perfectly unconcerned with anyone else.

I practiced her later in the bathroom

though my pockets were too shallow to

play the part well.

We’d scrounge for coins and slink

off to buy snacks from the vending machines

while our mother taught a freshman composition class.

Honeybuns, Three Musketeers, Funyans.

We’d sit in the back row of the theater

on the first floor and eat silently

while students practiced their lines

on the wide, wooden stage.

Sometimes we drew on the chalkboard

of an empty classroom.

Trees were my specialty.

When someone poked

half a body in the classroom,

my brother would jerk his curly head

toward the watcher and say, smiling:

My sister

Is really good at drawing trees.

I ached.

Tried not to smile

as big as my heart felt.

I was no tree-drawing genius,

but I was in love with the metaphor.

Of trees. Still am.

The tangle of limbs, the bark,

The hole, home to something peering out.

I was drawn to the context of each of my trees.

Sometimes I’d draw tall mountains behind the tree

Or hang a swing on the one chunky big limb

Reaching out awkwardly from the trunk.

Sometimes I would lean a person against the tree.

The college students seemed so old to me.

Now I know they were babies

finding their way in the forest world.

Can we ever say we are wise?

Like the oldest tree whose roots

connect to everything else?

In elementary school

I began to daydream about what it would

be like to be other girls.

To be Amanda with

her perfect handwriting

and big three-story, window-seat house.

I’d press my forehead against the window

watch her get off the bus

watch her mother open the door.

Her little fluffy dog would greet her.

My insides burst with want.

I’d watch Shannon with her messy short blond hair

And bright blue eyes. Boys liked her. I liked her.

Or did I want to be her?

Sometimes I thought

I could pass for a college student

If I wore my backpack

when my brother

and I lurked around.

Though I was as tall as a short woman,

I didn’t think about the fact that my

backpack was bright purple

and that I wore pink

Reeboks or clear jellies and short feathered hair.

I didn’t think about the fact that

I had no boobs or curves

and would be seen as exactly as I was: nine.

I realized something months ago

when I was in a curl of grief:

I am still on the stage of a different life

haunted by the ghosts of that life.

And no one is on the stage with me.

No one is in the audience, not

even a couple of grubby kids

snacking on Funyans.

Speaking of trees,

I want to pull their contentment

into my core.

The way they exist in an economy of abundance

The way they don’t look at other trees

and wonder why they can’t be slimmer, thicker

taller, home to more creatures or less.

Greener, younger.

They don’t want to be a different species.

They don’t wonder why they can’t move.

Or whether it would be more exciting

to be a gray heron.

They don’t have nightmares

of chainsaws

and people in hard hats.

They don't google

the effects of

oak wilt,

root rot,



They don’t long for

another decade

or wonder why more birds flock

to the pine forest across the river.

At one time the play

that I was acting in was relevant,

crucial to my existence,

seemingly the only way

to survive.

I want to be what my brother saw

in me in that classroom

so many years ago.

Before I fully accepted

and memorized a script

handed to me and adapted -

whose story,

as the years moved along,

wrote me clear out.

As I look out the window,

I see that my garden is moving

On to another stage.

The lettuce has gone to seed

and ungodly tall.

This is the new script I’m working on.

Me, in a garden.

Me, a leaf NOT held down.

Accepting the wonders

of this new life

that I have only partially chosen.

The part I chose is no

more reason to blame myself

than the unforgiveness I carry

for the parts I did not choose.

Me, not comparing

to other species of women.

Me, not wishing

for a smarter brain

faster legs,

happier heart,

better tits.

Not expecting ease where not earned.

Not expecting what is not.

Me, a badass bitch

who will not be on

anyone else's stage.

Unless the stage is Brandi Carlile's.

I'd be up for just standing there.

As a visitor.

Me, not hovering around the wreckage

of my former life like a ghost.

Let the trees be our teachers,

the scriptwriters.


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