The Two Trees
by Larry Levis
My name in Latin is light to carry & victorious.
I’d read late in the library, then
Walk out past the stacks, rows, aisles
Of books, where the memoirs of battles slowly gave way
To case histories of molestation & abuse.
The black windows looked out onto the black lawn.
Friends, in the middle of this life, I was embraced
By failure. It clung to me & did not let go.
When I ran, brother limitation raced
Beside me like a shadow. Have you never
Felt like this, everyone you know,
Turning, the more they talked, into . . .
Acquaintances? So many strong opinions!
And when I tried to speak—
Someone always interrupting. My head ached.
And I would walk home in the blackness of winter.
I still had two friends, but they were trees.
One was a box elder, the other a horse chestnut.
I used to stop on my way home & talk to each
Of them. The three of us lived in Utah then, though
We never learned why, me, acer negundo, & the other
One, whose name I can never remember.
“Everything I have done has come to nothing.
It is not even worth mocking,” I would tell them
And then I would look up into their limbs & see
How they were covered in ice. “You do not even
Have a car anymore,” one of them would answer.
All their limbs glistening above me,
No light was as cold or clear.
I got over it, but I was never the same,
Hearing the snow change to rain & the wind swirl,
And the gull’s cry, that it could not fly out of.
In time, in a few months, I could walk beneath
Both trees without bothering to look up
Anymore, neither at the one
Whose leaves & trunk were being slowly colonized by
Birds again, nor at the other, sleepier, more slender
One, that seemed frail, but was really
Oblivious to everything. Simply oblivious to it,
With the pale leaves climbing one side of it,
An obscure sheen in them,
And the other side, for some reason, black bare,
The same, almost irresistible, carved indifference
In the shape of its limbs
As if someone’s cries for help
Had been muffled by them once, concealed there,
Her white flesh just underneath the slowly peeling bark
—while the joggers swerved around me & I stared—
Still tempting me to step in, find her,
And possess her completely