In the cramped living room of my childhood
between sagging rough-skinned sofa that made me itch
and swaybacked chair surrounded by ashtrays
where my father read every word of the paper
shrouded in blue smoke, coughed rusty phlegm
and muttering doom, the rug was a factory
oriental and the pattern called tree of life.
My mother explained as we plucked a chicken
tree of life: I was enthralled and Hannah
my grandmother hummed for me the phrase
from liturgy: Eytz khayim hee l’makhazikim
bo v’kol nitee-voteh-ho shalom:
for she is a tree of life to all who hold her fast,
and the fruit of her branches is peace.
I see her big bosomed and tall as a maple
and in her veins the beige sugar of desire
running sometimes hard, surging skyward
and sometimes sunk down into the roots
and clay and the bones of rabbits and foxes
lying in the same bed at last becoming one.
I see her opening into flushed white
blossoms the bees crawl into. I see her
branches dipping under the weight of the yield,
the crimson, the yellow and russet globes,
apples fallen beneath the deer crunch.
Yellow jackets in the cobalt afternoon buzz
drunken from cracked fruit oozing juice.
We all fit through her branches or creep
through her bark, skitter over her leaves.
Yet we are the mice that gnaw at her root
who labor ceaselessly to bring her down.
When the tree falls, we will not rise as plastic
butterfly spaceships, but will starve as the skies
weep hot acid and the earth chafes into dust.