The intergalactic traveler makes a Kroger run
You’d think he’d head straight for the Moon Pies or
maybe Lucky Charms, anything with more sugar than
nutrients, yet the intergalactic traveler is surprisingly
health-conscious, hanging out in the produce by the
star fruit and bananas. He seems to enjoy the bulbous
tomatoes, despite their disappointing color and flavor.
It is their sumptuous, globular shapes that draw him in,
those, and the fact that earthlings spend more time
in this part of the store, where the aisles aren’t so
claustrophobic and they can linger over the grapefruit
and smell the strawberries. Even the dry, acrid onions
remind him of tiny planets. Having survived for eons
on nothing but starlight, he basks in the florescent
afterglow of fruits and vegetables. People watching
is more to his taste than eating these self-absorbed
exotic beings teetering on the brink of extinction.
A Necessary Lie
We believe a big tree will live forever, though we see the lie.
We have known young trees and watched them die of drought.
We have seen the winds take out branches, even topple
whole trees, tall pines or sturdy oaks, their trunks snapped
like matchsticks or their root balls torn up from soggy ground,
their roots left dangling in the air, clinging to a layer of dirt.
I have seen iris bloom sideways from the ground around
a hackberry’s massive clump of roots, hanging on above
a deep hole the size of a grave, excavated by tornado.
I have seen a tall pecan come crashing down and tear
the roof off a neighbor’s house or a live oak level the
back bedroom another neighbor ran from minutes before.
Ice will take down huge limbs in winter, beetles drill holes
to suck the sap and poison the pine’s life blood. There is ample
evidence that trees are mortal, yet standing under the big maple,
it was easy to believe it would always be there, until now
when we see its days are numbered: the hollows in its trunk
may be filled, or it may be taken down to save the house.
But we see it could never live forever, as my mother
reminds me that we never know from day to day the span
of our own lives, and I feel like Gilgamesh, after the death
of his great friend, when Utnapishtim, the survivor of the flood,
reveals the gods established death and life, yet humans cannot
know the days of death. For how long do we build a house,
for how long can we sign a lease or raise a child? Every day
we climb that tree. Every day could be its last, and yet we live
as if it isn’t. My father died suddenly when his heart gave out;
my sister, after seven years of cancer. Two gashes in this trunk.
My mother has lost two sisters, a brother, and countless friends
and neighbors, yet she rises every morning to tend her tree.
Kendall Dunkelberg shelters in place with his wife and son in Columbus, Mississippi. When not walking the dog, watching birds, or hugging trees, he directs the low-residency MFA in creative writing and the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium at Mississippi University for Women. To the best of his knowledge, his travels have not taken him beyond this galaxy.