The Friction of Leaves
I imagine my aunt cradled the wedge
of wood like an unborn infant,
her palms weighing the potential.
Her fingers, slivered by Braille,
skimmed the timber’s lineage
before rewriting it in a pile
of shavings spun into Fibonacci spirals:
a face born from a branch. Twenty years later,
the dust twisting from my truck’s tires
clouded his dead eye as I left. The wind
whistled through stiff lips, stirring his beard.
They say soft wood carves best,
but I recognized the grain
in his petrified face, the black walnut
growing in the x-ray slide of his skull,
the finality of our conversation
in the friction of leaves.
I walked to my father’s house in the country
at midnight from a bar on the periphery of town.
A distant dog’s bark echoed from the slate ceiling,
and a light, just out of reach, backed away matching my pace.
It shined like the flash from a silver dollar
in Sam’s trembling hand on Christmas morning when I was a kid.
I’m sure he missed the shake with his good eye:
the one not buried in gauze but too weak to see
without glasses dark enough to watch metal melt.
In the summer, he sat on the back porch with my father
and sipped steel cans of Stroh’s.
The maple tree in the yard massaged his face
with its shadows when it shifted its weight.
I can’t remember anything
he ever said, but when he closed his eye and laughed,
I heard dead leaves rattle in his throat
and saw a face stretched by the stress of calendar pages piled up.
I’m sure he heard a young man’s chuckle, the growl of tires in gravel,
the radiator’s dying breath. His vision, tunneled by the hole
in his best friend’s head, focused on a smooth face
reflected in the wrinkled satin of a creek outside Chattanooga,
where he ran from cops and swam in corn whiskey.
Fifty years later, his rickety legs stabbed knee-deep in the snow.
Two blocks from home,
he collapsed and swore he felt warm air blast
through his friend’s car window. He heard the engine rev,
but it was really a rotted station wagon
spraying snow from spinning tires, trying to gain traction.
The driver saw Sam and wondered
who would leave a mannequin in a shabby coat
half buried in a snow drift. On the road
to my father’s house, a wind chime murmured from a porch
somewhere in the dark. The distant light
felt like an unevenly worn mattress.
Echoes like Steel
Whitebarks shiver in a zephyr’s sigh. The Golden
Retriever’s teeth crunch peanuts from my palm,
muffling stillness on a jagged peak, surrounded
by snow that shrunk ten foot pines to shrubs
clawing their way through crusted powder.
Without snowshoes, drifts are snares. Below,
the cold sky reflects in Lake Tahoe,
a mirror one thousand feet deep, framed by senile mountains.
The sun wanes behind the western range. Beyond Mount Pluto,
I picture the pass near Truckee where the snow
seized ninety emigrants from Springfield, Illinois.
The cattle went first, even bones and hides;
then dogs, rats, shoes. One night as a kid,
sitting alone at the dinner table, I ate
tears and glared at peas piled on my plate.
Dad guarded the door, his arms like thick ropes
knotted across his chest. He said, you can eat anything
if you’re hungry enough.
A blackbird perched on an embalmed branch
eyes the burden of the past loaded in my pack.
When he speaks, his hollow voice echoes like steel.
Trevor Nelson studies English at Northern Illinois University and writes from Rockford, Illinois. His poetry and prose have appeared in 5×5, Awosting Alchemy, and Voices.