Day calls or what passes for day here. I leave you
sleeping in this light that comes later each morning,
as if we were approaching winter, not the moon
we aim for. Night remains night, its length the earth’s
at the equinox. A story I won’t tell you: my mother,
younger than we are now, stretched in the bed
of a truck. She’d parked on some rural turnoff,
waiting for the man who would be my father
to see the flare of the station overhead. She couldn’t
remember whether it was evening, morning. My father
swatted at mosquitoes while my mother watched
that brief star, neither Hesperus nor Phosphorus,
the way I watch you before I hear the alarm.
Its call is neither the nightingale, the lark,
or not the lark—
Mornings shifted for us,
moving from season to season, but always
returning to themselves. Here, days contract
to the length they’ll be when we arrive; nights
always remaining night, as if the only thing
that cannot be automated is sleep. And, love,
when evening comes too close to our waking,
what new birds will we imagine we hear, what light
will signal our coming together,
our coming apart?
Notes Toward a Eulogy for Celis Margrave
“If Jeff had elected to return, Celis would have gone too—they were the most absorbed of lovers; but Jeff had no desire that way.”
—Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland, 1915
1. Each tree slants its own angle into the wind. We begin at our first memory of her—mine, I should say—my mother, the forester, laughing on a low branch. Or she is calling my name. I cannot tell which.
2. The first signs of disease to watch for: halos on the leaves, dark spots beneath. By the time chlorosis sets in, it’s often too late. She once said my father wished I was a boy, though this was later.
3. The importance of distinguishing between similar species. My father telling us that in the outside world, each living thing is given a name in an obsolete language. My father telling us that if he’d gone back, he would have discovered some delicate new fern, if only to give it her name. Instead, she took his, after a while.
4. How beautiful the moths can be. How small. How much their offspring devour. For weeks, she stayed at my bedside, stroking my hair and singing until I fell asleep. The fever passed, the fever always passed. I tried to will her back into the trees then, but I couldn’t. Instead, I ate.
5. How to prevent the failure of a graft. We moved, our little family, as often as another forest called my mother away. I stayed with them—with him—instead of living with the other girls. My mother tried to give me roots. I pulled at them until they gave—
6. The saw is sometimes necessary. So is fire. Did she tell him that I’d been born of the old call, not of the new marriage?
7. The deciduous tree never wishes to be evergreen. I felt the call. My father sang his granddaughter to sleep, still sings to mine. We will scatter my mother’s ashes under the tree in which they’d met. That long-dead tree, carved into a sort of monument to their achievement: it too begins to rot and will be gone by the next spring’s passing.