Anna Kelley

WOMEN TURNING INTO TREES

 

I.

When she drops her groceries, the glass
bottles of milk shatter into a white pool
and cans go rolling across the parking lot.
It’s too late by the time we rush over.
She’s ramrod with her arms to the air,
eyes closed, toes curling over her sandals
and burying into cracks in the asphalt—
do you know her? None of us do, this
middle-aged woman with quiet shoes
in a blouse the color of mushrooms.
Her mouth opens and opens and then

the bark coming from deep inside her,
breaking across her lips and spreading
down her freckled face. We can’t tell
whether she is shaking as it encases her
though when the police arrive, they say
that it is rarely painful. And the man
who must be her husband, gray-headed
and heavy, stands in her shade and gazes
up at the leaves as if they will spell out
some reason for how all this came to be.

II.

At least she had the baby before her hair
hardened to yellow branches. At least she
made it to the field behind the hospital
where it would not make a mess. At least
the obstetrician forgave her bill. At least
the transformation preserved her strong
limbs and good posture. At least the baby
is a boy who will never have to suffer
his mother’s fate. At least she left behind
her sweet-natured younger sister to look
after him. The father has yet to be found.
 

III.
 

She stands with Amanda on the edge
of a river, waiting. They have separately
begun to feel the stirrings in their chests.

Like moths’ purple fur. Like cattails
straining to catch the wind in their fists.
She knows it’s coming soon. Last night
they toasted their love with lime seltzer
and begged what gods were watching
to make them fruit-bearing, hive them
with passages for insects, web moss
across their trunks to keep them warm.

Across the water, a long black bird picks
at something in the silt. It’s late summer
and the air will soon be easy to breathe.
The newscasters have said that in a year
there will be no women left at all.
When the soles of her feet start to itch
and split, she says, Just talk to me.
Her fingers stretch out into twigs.
She listens till the words lose meaning
and she starts to taste Amanda’s breath
behind them like sharp blue mints.

 


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