“Nothing stays long enough to know.
How long since we’ve been inside
anything together the way
these birds are inside
this tree together, shifting, making it into
a shivering thing”
—Mary Szybist, “Too Many Pigeons and One Dove,” Incarnadine [Graywolf Press, 2013]
The cedar tree on the corner of the lot must remain. So says Margaret, 96, and refusing to let poor sight and hearing keep her from knowing. This was the deal made back then: The place where we now live, a parsonage, could be built and the land would be given by Mr. Hal, so long as the cedar tree is left in place.
But who, besides Margaret, our omniscient neighbor, knows that this is the case, so many years having passed since the gift and Mr. Hal’s departure?
How many pronouncements of the past, uttered in tones to indicate permanence, are bulldozed away by our inconstancy? What one generation honors mystifies the next and certainly the next. We wander past Confederate monoliths like they were so many signposts to places that no longer exist.
Except they do. Things don’t stop speaking just because we move on. Mr. Hal heard that tree speak and he honored the silence he heard.
“Nothing stays long enough to know.” There’s the failure of the GUT. We’ll never be around long enough to grasp any Grand Unified Theory. The lessons we’ve learned in our little corner of time are soon enough spent and we’re on to the next presumed necessity. The utility trucks removed half that cedar last fall and who knows what lightning strike may take the rest and leave us homeless, if anyone knew.
I have shivered in the presence of others – that girl, now my spouse, in the miracle of encounter, a harbor seal I surprised on a deserted beach, a tree.
Let the cedar tree be. Let it whisper words of wisdom. Let it be.
—Alex Joyner is a writer, teacher, and United Methodist pastor living on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. He is the author, most recently, of A Space for Peace in the Holy Land: Listening to Modern Israel & Palestine [The Englewood Review of Books, 2014].
Shrines to Longing: An Evening of Poetry with Charles Wright and Mary Szybist
Fri. March 20, 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm
UVa Culbreth Theater
109 Culbreth Rd, Charlottesville, VA 22903
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