March 26, 2008

Medicine Tree

A disbeliever down to the bone,
he kneels before the stunted tree
alone in the feverish desert

called sleep. Various offerings—
wells of ink, plaster statuettes,
pages yellowed by time and heat—

from those who, like him,
once hoped to be forgiven or healed
lie scattered around. No doubt

he desires the persimmon
seeds, some kind of constellation
to give mercy, mercy enough.

Such windfallen fruit.
Such impossible sweetness.
Nothing here, says coyote.

Don’t listen, says man. Believe.
When enough is spent, the sainted
tree seems to creak, seems to whisper,

on words reverently pronounced
as ritualistic appeasements,
only then will the buffalo’s head

propped here in the highest fork
listen and reply. A spoonful of maggots
swims in each ear and the slack mouth.

The man snatches lines from the wind,
uproots them along with the pale grass
and swallows alkali. Nothing.

He praises the wind’s countless
moods, that grass for its democracy.
Nothing at all. He strikes flint

for illumination and misses the mark,
drawing blood. One eye in the head opens
halfway. The wound is not enough.

Tonight the first poem will happen.

—Allen Braden
previously published in Poetry Northwest

Posted by dwaber at 12:38 PM

March 25, 2008


The story reinvents itself
each night around the campfire.
Once in Ireland, for example,
upon a time some terrible storm
left a horse high up in a tree

or if someone lives by the sea,
then a seal. In the highlands,
a goat stands in, regardless
of what each has in common:
always a figure which has lost

its position in the appropriate world,
erased by chance or embellishment.
And when the wind blows through
the treetops, a baby and cradle will fall
out of one version and into another.

This tree could burst into flames
at any moment or be felled by an ax
wishing to carve more of its kind.
The story, though, goes on and on,
unafraid, untouched but changed.

—Allen Braden
previously published in The Bellingham Review

Posted by dwaber at 01:55 PM