I am the gallows tree the children playing hangman draw
on a chalk-pale blackboard.
The adorable children clap their hands
& a man dangles from a wayward branch
like an outsized pupa
loaded with the ichneumon’s deadly eggs.
I am the tree where the screech owl learned to squint.
A body weighs so little without a shadow!
But at the first touch of sun it returns
to the world of objects, a frost-struck marigold
too late for the sprinkler’s unction.
I remember the forest: I alone escaped the charcoal-
makers. Not worth the trouble, they said,
& their blackfaced helpers, done with their shifts,
stretched out in my ungainly shade.
Now, whenever the moon is right, a man
with a trowel comes round to steal my soil.
I don’t know how many more uses I can take.
This morning I dreamt of a storm, ah—
a forked tongue of lightning curled around me,
turned my sap to quicksilver. Lord,
if I must remain an instrument of power,
let me be a caduceus: thy staff, thy rod.