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.