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By Jeff Hardin

The maple having died years ago while a walnut
sprang up beside it, inches between them, now
covered in vines, its own life strangled, the whole
misshapen form leaning south—I could have
long ago taken care of the clump, but mornings
I study its decay, one limb stark against the sky.
How fitting to see its reaching, a reminder of how
we can’t always order our lives. We can aim for
beauty, but a mess is what we get instead. Years
ago, a few paces away, a deer, I discovered, had
died near a fence row. Maybe brought down by
coyotes—I couldn’t say—it was stripped clean
by the time I came upon it. Told to move its bones,
I saw no need. The sun bleached them, and they
lay where they fell, a marker of mystery, a holiness
I thought best not to disturb. I’m no longer certain
why one day arrives as opposed to another, why
one life continues and another concludes, years
apart, decades even. Not much seems seamless
but, instead, disjunctive, all the old narratives
scattered, scene after scene orphaned, distinctly
itself. Belief, long believed, finds a way to hold
almost anything together —barn and curve of road,
owl and aubade, horizon and mass grave—but
but maybe belief is a word with which we’ve
grown exhausted, defending what it overlooks
or has to let go of. When I moved to this land,
I justified the choice, in part, because of a beech,
maybe a century old, whose trunk, six feet wide,
extended upward twelve feet before branching
into two limbs, each at least three feet thick,
a miracle to behold, and I daily walked beneath
it, then wide around it, admiring its ancient life.
Its symmetry felt whole, and that it had survived
so long I took as a comfort until, five years later,
one limb came down in a storm with the other
soon to follow, leaving only the trunk. Entrusted
to me, my small window of time, the beech had
collapsed; and raised on Biblical cautions, on
signs found everywhere, it was impossible not
to read this turn of events as a personal rebuke.

Maybe time holds no awareness of someone like
me, a man who from my first awareness felt time
escaping me, diminishing exponentially, a student
of earth’s simplest forms, moss, clover, stones,
wanting to hold each closer than my own breath.
The beech had simply reached its own conclusion.
Maybe the land had come to me because I might
mourn the loss as no one else would and go on
mourning all my years, however few I’m given.
Lately, I’m ashamed to admit I’ve grown tired
of almost every conversation. I no longer care
to prove a point, to convince another, to pose,
to reposition, to anticipate how to offer a response.
Vines grow. They consume a tree. It eventually
falls, becomes the earth again. Maybe someone
is there as witness, who loves language, who
tries to hold its presence in the world a while
longer. All we do is explain what we think we
understand, understanding little but the silence
a voice is subsumed by. A part of me wonders
if the tree is even real, if it’s a supposition posed
for the purpose of thinking on a life’s work, how
—before it has begun—it often falls of its own
weight, without a whisper, no one to listen anyway.


Not yet seventy years roaming the earth,
yet all my moments of astonishment, added
together, have become a kind of eternity.
I just want to be inside the story becoming
more and more of itself and me, a small
presence inside it, praising all its unfoldings.
One moment, if we listen closely, is talking
to all the others. Maybe it’s a voice of endearment.
Or maybe every moment holds forth every other.
No one is never not present. They crowd in
upon us. All their words are woven into ours.
Wherever we turn, we look through their eyes.
Could we bear every dove we’ve ever known
sounding their five notes at the same time? Or
was each note a rapture not calling our names?
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