Poem of the Week

Controlled Burn

Laura Cresté

Seven trees come down
and then the trees are burned
to rid the yard of branches, brambles.

Smoke drifts thick through the coat
of the German Shepherd who belongs
to the tree cutters. He snaps a twig

that an hour ago hung in the sky.
He breaks it, joyfully mossing his mouth.
It makes the sound of biscotti.

This morning in the house where Mike grew up
I pointed at a trapdoor outside our bedroom,
leading to an attic we’ve never seen.

He said three times I feel like I’m going
to wake up. We sleepwalk through the day
to the dull whine of the chainsaw.

We know now trees are social creatures,
feeding sugar to the young
and the sick through their roots.

They can keep alive a cut stump for decades—
the time it will take the collagen
to abandon my face and cartilage in my knees

to grind down to nothingness.
When I was a child, afraid of dying,
my father told me there was no heaven

but we stay in the earth, alchemize
into trees. I can’t tell you the horror
I felt then, having expected angels.

The smoke thins from a billow to a plume
while the men turn trunks into logs
and the dog works over a new stick.

He was named for a city in New York
that was named for an ancient city
that burned, but he doesn’t know.

The dog loves his stick the way I love
my mind, worrying the same grooves
into whatever fresh thing he’s given.

Laura Cresté is the author of the chapbook You Should Feel Bad, which won a Chapbook Fellowship from the Poetry Society of America. She holds an MFA from New York University and received a 2021–22 fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center, in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Originally published:
September 22, 2021

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