Nothing But a Few Bare Trees

They were nothing but a few bare trees
warped in the north shore’s gauzy light,
nothing but a few stripped hickories

or oaks thinned out by blight, their low
limbs crusted in snow, yet something
in the way they stood apart and out

from others in that wood across acres
of ice, something about their fixture there,
under a hard white sky, caught and held

the eye. One of the elders mentioned
crosses on a holy hill, and someone quick
to counter spoke of totems carved in

remoter times. Yet they were nothing
but a few bare trees, nothing, nonetheless,
a few of us at first, then more whose houses

lined the south end’s smoother shore,
came to take for masts, gnarled
and gray, of a vessel moored in port,

its twisted yardarms strung with sails
furled and tied. In the hum of the here
and now, press of errand and chore,

that hazy premise could be consigned
to atolls of the mind. It was nothing,
after all, but a few bare trees. But

in the hours close to dawn, or just
at dusk, seated by picture windows
or rocking foot to foot, ghosted

by our own breaths on porches
and docks, we couldn’t help but gaze
along the northern bank, and conjure

warmer waters, greener scenes.
They were nothing but a few bare trees.
Still, the wary among us thought

of Cook, Magellan, brought down
in blood on islands far from home.
The tragic recalled Gauguin, ensconced

in thatch and reed—suicidal, syphilitic.
Those who sought adventure, no
matter the cost, heard the outlands

cry, while the lonely and shut-up
ached—some stifled sobs—
at the prospect of escape. And those

less rootless than the rest, less maudlin
and less fraught, nearer their last days,
stared out at a ship of death (if only

a few bare trees) stuck for a season
in, but bound away from time,
waiting for spring to carry them off.

Gregory Fraser

Gregory Fraser

Gregory Fraser is the author of three poetry collections: Strange Pietà (Texas Tech University Press, 2003), Answering the Ruins (2009), and Designed for Flight (2014), both from Northwestern University Press. His poetry has appeared in journals including The Paris Review, The Southern Review, and The Gettysburg Review. The recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, Fraser serves as professor of English at the University of West Georgia.
Gregory Fraser

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Author: Gregory Fraser

Gregory Fraser is the author of three poetry collections: Strange Pietà (Texas Tech University Press, 2003), Answering the Ruins (2009), and Designed for Flight (2014), both from Northwestern University Press. His poetry has appeared in journals including The Paris Review, The Southern Review, and The Gettysburg Review. The recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, Fraser serves as professor of English at the University of West Georgia.