The splintered edges of the bark had already
Turned brown and mottled where the kid’s ax
Gashed the tree a month before, showing
The tender whiteness of the wood beneath.
This was no child’s act. I cut into it with my knife,
Elongating the scar to help the tree heal, as the experts tell us to do;
But the random cruelty of the act touched me deeply,
And in my sympathy, I imagined the tree crying out as I cut,
And blood where the ax had sliced. The world around me
Continued its loud and soft noises—
Birds, cars, doors closing, leaves upturning as the wind rose—
But their importance diminished as I worked;
They were no longer my sounds, no longer part of my world.
I had turned away from them. I felt the tree’s gash within myself.
Deep fog in the lower valley this morning,
And a beginning mix of icy rain and snow.
The cold drills through me as I walk the orchard path,
Still troubled, still feeling the weight of that act.
I’ve always imagined that great undeserved suffering
Can show us the world as it really is, and that the vision
Can change us. But because no one saw the wounding
Of the tree, no one will be accused, no one confess,
And nothing will be healed. Back home I spend
The rest of the day drinking, not speaking to anyone.
The guilt has become my guilt. It is not sharable.
My anger tells me that I am not a good man.
I have no foundation for my judgment of others,
Or for my anger or my loneliness. Today I shall
Go back to the forest, and there pray for the safety
Of trees and good men, and against, in this bleakest
Of weathers, the cruel thoughtlessness of others.
Lord, accept my prayer. Let these trees long outlive us.
Friends In Autumn
For Bill Burtis
The path from the shore cuts diagonally
Through the older, unfarmed fields,
Past the branched inflorescence
Of Mare’s Tails and Joe-Pye-Weed.
Nearer the shack, the Common Mullein
Takes over, its real life branched like our own,
In candelabra-whorls, mixing everything
With everything, even these drifting
Night-words spoken as the fire burns
To last coals, and the stars and the world
Flare so brilliantly against the darkness
That it all seems created solely for our witness—
It is as if all things in this visible world
Called out their true names to us, asking
To be remembered as they are tonight.
There is a story of a time as troubled as ours,
When a man sought to wake the old gods
From their sleep, hoping to restore nobility
To his world and make it as it had been
In the stories of his fathers; but he lacked
Strength to complete his task—
He could raise the miraculous horn to rouse them,
But could not finish the call, and so left them
Half-awake and powerless to rise. He ran
As they turned in pain toward him,
Knowing in a way that he could never know
The true cost of that failure, and knowing also
That they alone would bear it. They called
As he fled, Better had you left us
As you found us, better had you left us…
This story of the flight from injured gods
Tells how others aways pay
The price of good intentions.
I look around—what about us? Aging men,
Bound by love and the quiet anger of age
At what cannot now be changed, heart-hurt
By what we have done and failed to do.
Each of us fears that our ending will claim us
Before we are ready, and our patrimonies
Vanish as if they had never been.
The true hope now is for time enough
To conclude the work intended, to leave
The mark behind of a life not wasted.
As the fire burns to last chars, I think of
The netted seeds of certain plants we passed
On the journey here, first-year leaves
Felt-like to the touch, defended and hidden
By those who have gone before.
So much of life is like that, I think,
One generation protecting the next,
The younger ones waiting their time
To grow strong enough to enter this world
On terms beyond Death and waste—
Life’s great secret is that it does not need us
To affirm it. Yet we are here, under
A night sky whose brilliance enfolds us,
A world of beauty whose existence
Rebukes our troubles and fears.
For it’s all right, the world says tonight,
All of it, and in this moment of friendship
And love, of friendship and death
You are forgiven all past and all
Failures and faults to come,
And are made whole, and can sleep.
Bob Herz is publisher/editor of Nine Mile Magazine and Books, with his colleagues Steve Kuusisto and Andrea Scarpino. An MFA graduate of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, he is author of two books of poetry, former editor of Seneca Review and the Hobart & William Smith College Press. He worked for some years for the New York State Legislature, where he authored the Arts & Cultural Affairs Law, the NYS Poet and NYS Fiction awards, the Elderlaw, the Albany Writers Institute, many human services and economic development programs and credits, and many other laws. He is president of inSourcing, an incubator in Syracuse, NY, a board member of the Business Incubator Association of New York State, a business consultant, and former president of the Syracuse International Film festival. He is married and lives in LaFayette, NY.