By Conor Scruton
Tree Branch Elegies
This one looks like a spiderweb
where lightning struck it in two—one half
stretching still to sunset, the other
strung down silvery to the gravel driveway
in soft throbs. It catches leaves
in bends and twig forks, withered
skeletal little hands tempted out of life.
Like the oak a bolt stripped half-naked
that one night. I had been sleeping
next to you when we saw it happen
blue as the moment behind an old photograph
flash. You ran your fingernails
around singed edges the next morning—the bare parts
under the bark not as tender as you expected,
but just as ungiving as the outside. Otherwise
you might have pushed your knuckles
deep, down past tree rings, down
to the place all hundred years come from
until you found the thread of heartwood
barbed hard enough into your palm
to feel its pulse deaden into your own.
I often tell myself I’m strong enough
to end a life if need be, like my grandfathers
who shot dogs caught hopeless in bear traps
or gone too crazy to keep.
Now, though, I find it hard to kill
the cardinal who flew against the window
and fell half-broken on the porch,
her tail twitching back and forth,
than be carried off by the cat,
but still I can’t manage
to help her along, to pull that veil
over her face. You told me once how
you had to shoot your aunt’s horse:
how the greatest trainer in the country
rode off to the fields on his back
and returned with steps sinking heavy
into earth, leading him by the halter,
unable to scrape out the pieces
of wild emptiness from his head.
How his pupils seemed so much bigger
with a rifle raised before them,
how even the dumb, brain-dead thing
could show you your reflection
when he looked you right in the eyes.
Conor Scruton lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he studies literature and works as a graduate assistant at Western Kentucky University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Whiskey Island, Superstition Review, Appalachian Heritage, and others.