Tell me of my father’s tree, the Triers fleeing the forests of Germany because they were Anabaptist. Drowned in the lake named after them. Tell me of the onions, the muck they found themselves in. Tell me of the man who left the church to marry a divorced woman, a woman who grew up in a tree with her bear-hunting father. Where are those trees now despite the land constantly yearning back toward the forest. How can we pretend we don’t.
Tell me of the man who returned from the war and bought the ’46 Oliver I still use and the 160 acres I still farm and walk. Tell me of his never saying a word. Tell me of his first planting the ’75 plantation and the cedars and pines up from the pond. Tell me of his burying two wives and leaving one to bury him after dying on the trail he was clearing. Leeks grew there.
Tell me of her, of her raising the flags at dawn for the Four Directions and the Earth and the Great Spirit, of her bringing down their blessings at dusk. Tell me of her clinching my sister’s arm in rage at the thoughtlessness of picking a garlic chive she wasn’t going to use as she sauntered down the trail. Tell me of a plant’s pain. Felt in a human.
Tell me of his son, the man who stayed to tend the farm, who planted 13,000 white pine in rows between 13,000 hardwoods with his bear-paw hands, his hacked-up, scratched-up German thumbs. Tell me of his setting fires down the fields. Tell me of his always-gone. His factory until the Germans bought and closed it. And then more years of hacked-up hands in the multiflora rose, the autumn olive, the bush honeysuckle. Tell me of clearing out to bring the native plants in. Tell me of burning it all. And how even more returns.
I drew a rune, and it was Othala. I drew a rune, and it was the infinite wealth, the womb, of land. I drew a rune and was told I need to tend.
Tell me of my mother’s tree, Jane Kell setting off on her own from Ireland and finding North Carolina. Tell me of the magistrate who must have walked enough to carry the name, must have walked enough to keep her with him. Tell me of the first ten children our side never knew. Tell me of the last, disowned up into the mountains, the most hated man in the county. Tell me of his whisky still and the horses he stole and his straightening up from the field to be shot in the face by a neighbor.
Tell me of his son, collared and chained in the back yard without food or water. Tell me of him finding his hands in the veins of the plants covering the ground. Of his finding the red for blood, yellow for bile, blue for hurt. Tell me of his mill the long day long and then traveling across town to treat those too dark for white doctors, too dark for the white hospital. Tell me of his long, hard palms.
Tell me of his children, the alcoholics and asylum-dwellers and the workaholic preacher sitting in the garage with the exhaust filling up until my mother went out to bring him in. Tell me of his four daughters, split as the entire family was made.
Tell me of the daughter who took her widowed mother to every bank in town to take out all the loans she was worth. Tell me of the daughter who took the last box of rice out of her mother’s pantry, leaving her nothing to eat but the cold water in the pitcher inside the fridge. Tell me of the daughter who took.
Tell me of the daughter who wouldn’t leave, who wouldn’t raise her own son, who forged her father’s signature to buy clothes half her size. Tell me of her stealing as many of our social security numbers as she could to pay for the things we should have bought for her anyway. Tell me of her webs of stories she and so many have come to believe. Tell me of pity and how she doesn’t pay for her house or car because of it. Tell me of the daughter who lied.
Tell me of their fights, broom to skull, nails to face.
Tell me of the daughter who wrung her hands and worried her brow into furrows before she could speak. Tell me of the guilt decades in New York City couldn’t smooth out. Tell me how no one ever held her.
Tell me of the daughter who cleared out. Cleared out on her bike, flying with the dog to the woods, cleared out into Highway 61 Revisited in her room, cleared out off to Indiana to teach so well, to beam so well, to love so well she could clear out of herself while she did it.
I drew a rune, and it was Thurisaz. I drew a rune, and it was protection against, it was polarities split by a blood-poisoned thorn. I drew a rune and was told to get up and walk, to walk bleeding through those thorns, so they don’t grow into me, gnawing me apart, splitting me into two.
Tell me of why a young mother, beautiful and brilliant, kind and kind and so, so kind, leaves her second daughter in the silver-eyed trees and walks vacantly away. Tell me why eighteen months. Please, tell me how either one could still have arms.
Tell me of the mother’s vocation, the forty hours teaching paid, the other twenty grading, preparing, chaperoning not paid, and then the house, the laundry, the cooking, the daughters and their upturned arms. Who ever heard of sleep. That daughter does not.
Tell me of the husband who only works outside. The factory, the grass, the tractor, the trees. Let him raise her. Tell me of his swarms of newspapers, his food left out, his rage if something was moved, or if it wasn’t. Tell me of her trying and trying and trying and trying. Tell me of trying. A mind prone to split can only take so much. He never saw the crevice widening at the edge of her dark eye.
Tell me of the break. What cold night did her eyes split. Did she just sit down, palms open, in front of the gritty, melting window.
Tell me of not knowing what numbers mean, traffic lights. Tell me of having to practice Hello in the mirror. Tell me of not seeing the dishes pile up. Tell me of the piles of Bibles, clothes, Avon perfume, Matryoshka dolls and dusty, fake pearls maggoting over in the hallway, the dining room, the basement. Tell me what the second daughter was called. Tell me where we were going.
Tell me of always driving vacant to church. Tell me of learning you are wrong, you are damned. God doesn’t love you, doesn’t speak through you. Tell me of knowing you are damned without being told anymore. Tell me of learning the body is a dirty, dirty thing. Tell me of cruelty. Tell me of learning to be ugly. Tell me of no one to argue. Tell me of jumping off the highest part of the barn onto the concrete at eleven. The first time I tried to die.
Tell me of the barn not only dying, collapsing in a storm. Tell me of wildly plowed fence rows, a sycamore climbed, a sycamore planted. Tell me of splitting all the Matryoshka dolls apart across the keys of the out-of-tune piano. All the mamas with their girls. Tell me of the one doll, whole and alone, the spitting image without lipstick of her mother who does not exist. Tell me of making a home in the brooder coop, then the corner woods, always building a way around that maggoting house. Building the first bridge, then the shanty to be slept in once, during the tornado. Tell me of all the other nights not sleeping, a fire by the creek. Tell me of walking alone with the dog later and later, not a vacant eye to notice.
Tell me of walking late enough in the night to forget the house, to forget the mother whose eyes were starting to flicker back, then retreat, flicker back, then remain blown out. Tell me of walking in to a father and first daughter yelling. Tell me of waving a hand in front of a mother’s face. Tell me of not even a blink. Tell me of walking right back out the door.
Tell me of starting a period. Tell me of shame, of being a wrong kind of person, a dirty kind of person, a damned kind of girl. Of course she never told me I would.
Tell me of men. Of don’t, or you’re damned. Nothing about if they take you. Tell me of growing out of ugly but knowing you are. Tell me of sex because he wants it. Tell me of being thrown into a trailer wall. Tell me of weed and whisky, acid and pills, and all your friends being guys who will fuck you as soon as you pass out. Who ever told of love. Of the beauty of a body, the brightness of a mind, the love that is only safe to give to the dog and black cats in the coop. Tell me of walking, walking, for three nights walking, the four miles around the country mile, over and over, one white dog and one white girl so frantically walking a blizzard down around her, something, something, anything to feel something except the pain of that empty mother, that rotting house, that growing up unmothered.
Dear Pocket, tell me of neglect. Tell me of no holding. Tell me of empty eyes. And an overflowing house. A body cannot hold this.
Dearest Pocket, I drew a rune, and it was Berkana. I drew a rune, and it was the fullest woman—the growing, the mother, the growing, and death. I drew a rune, and it was inverted. I drew Berkana, and it was poisoned nurturing, it was poisoned protection, it was poisoned growth, it was poisoned intuition. I drew a rune, and it was pain.
Tell me of the only body to ever walk those nights with me, but that never walked alone. Tell me of our parents’ houses, one mile and one foot apart if you took the roads, but safer as the crow flies. Tell me of the call we used to tell our distance, the voice thrown back into the throat so high and guttural the waves split. That could be no human. Tell me of the nights down by the shanty, us sharing the mat beside the fire, our heads together but our bodies heading opposite, his to the east, mine to the west. Tell me of the lunatic moon cackling above.
Tell me of his place, the pole barn I more often walked to. Tell me of the green, waxed rug in the center of thrown-away couches, the candles and weed and cloves. Tell me of where my seat was, no matter how many were there.
I don’t want to hear this, any of this before. It might call him back.
Tell me of love, but tell it to me blind. Tell me of the lightning in his artemisia-green eyes. Tell me of his fuck-all. Tell me of his lopsided smirk grin. Tell me of his Percocet and DMT and meth that couldn’t hold him, the liquor that did. Tell me of his broad shoulders, guitar strap-slung most nights, that one night hunkered down into my arms on my porch no one had dared enter. Tell me of his father leaving for a lover from twenty years before. Tell me of his pain. Pocket, tell me of fester. Tell me of his ninety miles down a dead-end, of jumping off the bridge between two opposing trains.
Tell me of all his girlfriends, their jealousy and wanting advice. My jealousy and silence as I gave advice. Tell of years unrequited, unrequited years. But tell me how I knew that when they fought he’d be down at my pond on the overturned boat, shirt off, his eyes dead north.
Tell me how shy and terrored, how ugly I was, only talking when he was the only one around, wearing my hair deep over my face, every day my Janis shirt and moccasins and baja, Janis and Jimmy and the Jim he looked way too much alike, acted way too much alike.
Tell me of leaving the farm, of leaving the farm, tell me of leaving the farm and him, yes, but my god,
leaving the farm. Tell me of my white dog lying down in pain when I left and never getting up again.
Tell me of two weeks drunk and classes on Kierkegaard. Tell me of his getting out of jail, bailing on his family and girlfriend to show up with his I can’t live without you. Tell me of finding an auxiliary apartment for $125 a month. Tell me what is thought to be joy.
Pocket, tell me of love, but tell it all to me blind. Tell me of the banshee-calling lynx, calling all the way down through my woods, my white dog and me, alone, silently treading the love of a lunatic moon over the call of alone.
Dearest Pocket, I drew a rune, and it was Naudhiz. I drew a rune, and it was need and love and resistance and falling, crashing down. Dearest love, I drew a rune and could no longer breathe. I drew a rune and was bound to my emptiest need across the chest. Dearest Pocket, my white dog came back to lead me through my own inverted fog. He came back to walk his love ahead of me. I drew a rune and was told I already had true love. That I didn’t need to chase after it from someone who would kill me not all that many nights down the road.
Tell me of that one little room I turned into a jungle. Tell me of the orange kitties I lured there, needing that lurch up and purr. Tell me of most nights still alone, smoking and vodka in the dark. Who knows where he was. He said I didn’t need to know. Tell me of the notebook left empty, the last entry of how happy I was, how worried I was, the clinching pain gnawing at my stomach. What if class went over and I was late. He never believed I was there.
Tell me of not having a car, not being able to get back to the farm. Nowhere to walk but a sidewalk and the lurching Eel behind Main Street, sixty feet down and breaking. But there were cherry blossoms. And the first luna moth I held dying by the road. This precious, precious thing I only witnessed because it was dying.
Tell me of working at the nursing home, in the Alzheimer’s ward. Tell me of the woman who didn’t cause problems as long as she could fold hand towels, as long as she had her baby doll. Tell me how she would reach out and grab my hand for dear life, for dear touch, never knowing who I was beyond that she could feel me. She could feel that she could feel through me. Tell me of telling myself, at least I have touch, at least I am loved. Tell me of not telling myself of how painful it was to have sex, that no doctor could find out why. The first guy did not rip through me, at least not physically, permanently, though I have not tried to tell a man no since. Certainly not this one. This one who I love.
Tell me of staying up all night in the bathroom to read Hegel and Kant and Wittgenstein, of getting thrilled by a thesis, and him saying, you don’t know shit, pack me a bowl. Yet, tell me of standing up and giving a presentation, not taking a zero, for the first time since elementary school. Tell me of sequester. Tell me of these worlds shall never meet.
Still, Pocket, tell me of losing one friend after another, the few I could sneak back when he wasn’t around, the few who still called when they knew I happened to be walking home, the one who never even said hello, just, have you split with that jerk yet? Tell me of the first time I called home in a year being to say, we’re getting married, we’re so in love, no, he didn’t ask me, no, we decided so they wouldn’t be asking why I didn’t come home for breaks, don’t you have to come home for breaks if you’re staying at the dorms, you know we can come get you, right? Pocket, tell me of no, I can’t know anything apart from him, what he is fine with me knowing. I love him, I have always loved him, I can’t stand for him to even consider leaving me. Pocket, I don’t know who I would be. Nothing, I’m sure, Pocket; I would be nothing.
Dearest Pocket, I drew a rune that I could not turn upward. I drew a Wunjo that could not be joy, that could not be partnership, that could not be wonder at the bringing together of equals for the betterment of each. I drew a rune, and my legs collapsed beside me. I drew a rune, and the stone split like all the dolls I have ever kept. I drew a broken rune, and I laid it in a wedding ring. I drew a rune that wrote our vows of the space between the cedar and the pine. I drew a rune that spoke of no growth in the shadows. Yet, Pocket, I drew the rune of the weather vane. I drew a rune that will find its way out.
Tell me of leaving for our own house, the house with no walls. Tell me of never leaving. Tell me of the cat I finally got, who he locked up constantly for being a cat. Tell me of the pyre when he died, of seeing his blazing eyes, of learning that burning makes us smaller and smaller until we disappear.
Tell me of his losing the job we moved for, and the next, the next, always his bosses’ fault. Tell me how he still found a way to go out, but not with me. Tell me how he talked me into a credit card for a new guitar, another, an amp. Of course he would find a way to pay within six months. Tell me where the school loans went.
Tell me of not even going to school anymore, taking everything online, at home where he could trust me, trust me to be there when he came home reeking of someone else. Tell me of being dragged to bed. I didn’t fight back too much that first year. Tell of whisky, his always needing whisky, there being hell to pay if I let him run out. Tell me of paying hell regardless.
Tell me of getting down to a whisper, how the few people he let come over stopped asking me to repeat myself. I didn’t want to hear myself even once. Tell me of the backroom library job that fed it. Tell me how to disappear, tell me how to dis-exist. Tell me of not a single friend left. Not a family member.
But tell me of the holidays, going house to house to house, him on his best behavior, charming everyone, yes, we’re just so busy and it’s such a long drive out here. Tell me of the lights and shining, yes, I’m shining because, see, everything is fine, it is. Everyone’s saying we’re shining.
Tell me of finally getting a dog, a dog so crazed for love he even jumped up with his love on the man who punched him every morning as he left the house. Tell me why he wasn’t allowed inside. Tell me why I waited so long. Tell me of the first time I was punched across the face. Tell me of the sweetest, white pit-bull-lab never having to sleep alone, outside in the snow, again. It was worth it. Tell me of the beginning of the end.
Tell me of starting to go to classes, starting to write again. Tell me of coming home to him in bed with someone else, and then a different someone else. Tell me of his leaving me at a bar to take someone else to our home. Or just because he felt like it. Tell me of his slamming me into the door post because he felt like it, because I looked like I needed it. Tell me of more and more saying I needed to be killed, I deserve to be killed, just wait, I’ll set you right, you always thinking you’re too good, you worthless piece of shit, you ugly bitch, you’re lucky I can still stand you until I finally kill you, that’s what you need. Tell me of the choking, the belt right by the bed, ready. Tell me of the long fights for him to get me there. If only he would pass out before he saw me. Tell me of living so incredibly drained, but goddamnit, living.
Dearest Pocket, I drew a rune, and it was Algiz. It was the rune called upon to grow briers up through the feet of invaders. I drew a rune, and it came out inverted. I drew a rune, and it was the house of choking thorns made to look like roses, choking thorns growing inward to kill its dwellers. But I drew a rune that was turning, that wanted to be the thorns growing from my own skin. I drew a rune, and it told me to create my own sanctuary, with my own power, my own choice. I drew a rune, and it told me to leave.
Tell me of silence.
Tell it to me still.
Tell me of withdrawing so far within myself the skin numbs and returns to its clay. How many hours. How many days.
Tell me of the breath of a whisper I still am, sitting beside the pantry, at the dining room table without any food. Just sitting. Always facing the window. The Matryoshka dolls lying split as the panes. Tell me of not quite knowing where the noises went, what they used to be called. What I should be called. These whispered feet, don’t turn on a light, we must hush. Tell me of the fog slowly singing itself into and throughout the house, into the punched holes in the walls, into my memory of what happened. Tell me of just let us be for a moment.
Tell me of seven years.
Still, Pocket, tell me of the growing roads between those silences. Tell me of Derrick and cards and the midnights. Tell me of growing wormwood to surround the house. Tell me of the deck parties, growing friends of my own, their gypsy beards and ukulele round the fir. Tell me of voices, it’s okay for there to be voices, of the voices of a walk down forever-brick roads with my first best friend in a decade. Tell me of singing, of finding the grit in my voice and following it. Tell me of dancing the air in my hands, showering down the stars I never knew my body could hear.
But tell me of that man’s mother moving two houses down, his beating his new girlfriend in my front lawn. She had been trying to run to me. Tell me the worth of having a roommate who could easily take him.
And still, Pocket, tell me of the silence always there, waiting for everyone else to leave, waiting for that other yard not to be lit up. Tell me of turning off a body, turning off that kind of connection, that kind of connection is not safe. Tell me of we must be very, very still. We must not be at home.
Pocket, tell me of death, of as long as he didn’t do it. Tell me what wormwood can do.
Tell me of that house with no walls spinning in place, my mind, my intuition so fogged with streetlight static I couldn’t move, could only open the door or sit. Empty.
Pocket, tell me of division, tell me of sequester, tell me of the kind of split that keeps you whole. Some kind of wholeness, some kind of together. Tell me of the me who could laugh and dance and hug with my entire being, and tell me of the me who sat there beside the pantry, silent, remembering what it was to walk a night that became me, that gave me the dark, icy rivers in my blood that taught me to see with my feet and the white dogs I come of.
Dearest Pocket, I drew a rune, and it was Isa. It was stasis and constraint and a delayed massive force, but it was also such a slow, slow, painfully, freezingly slow integration, a coming together, a growing on. I drew a rune and was told I need to just hold on.
Tell me of my first orgasm being at the age of thirty. Tell me of how many times with men I had to heal from for that to happen.
Tell me of Chicago, the joy found in the woman of bees, her little sighs and rain, the joy found in the other woman of burning sage and mugwort, the blinding light behind her eyes. Tell me of words upon words upon words, the spells laid down to call forth. Tell me of the train I rode so much I fell for the conductor, of when he tore open the door and the ravens poured out, all for him to say he had missed me.
Tell me of the path I cleared in the night, back behind the factories in the overgrown shattered glass and porcelain sink. Tell me of straight down the dune into pitch and possibly fall, possibly a man standing bare in the next bend. That smoke is not from my cigarette. Tell me of round and round and round that clearing, the moon whipping up the trees into the clouds, the halo so amber it bled. Tell me how the moon stopped rising.
Tell me of the Matryoshka dolls I brought with me, lined up in the corner in front of the glass candle holder made of leaves. Tell me how the single doll kept moving back with the others.
Tell me how I left no one to walk after me.
Tell me of finally, finally, finally moving back to the farm, my one little room without heat while I wait for the cabin in the pines. Tell me of every, every night, the path worn along the pines to the pond, the around and back, the down to the road and across to the canal, the down to the back woods and back, the wind at the crest, the back to the pines, the around the pond and back, the up through the cherries and wind back in, the cathedral of pines and oaks in rows, then mine, winding along the creek through my woods. Tell me of the fire ring of stones still there, the shanty waiting for the next tornado to find me. Tell me of the happiest pack of dogs in the world, searching out and bounding back. Tell me of the whitest dog in front.
Tell me of one lover after another, most just a few weeks apart. Tell me of jumping in, our palms meeting at different junctures, and dancing away with a hug at the end. Tell me of learning, of passing on.
Tell me of growth. Tell me of the giggling twinkle back in my eyes, of palms holding each other for the first time in my life, of I love you for the first time in my life.
Tell me of needing so much space, of gulping down the wind to bring all that space within me, to just breathe the space between those pines down into my blood. To not be with someone all the time.
Tell me of growing fields of medicinal herbs, as in, growing poisons. Tell me of drinking my death for my health. You don’t need to tell me that the innocent herbs do nothing. Tell me of wormwood, but tell me of honey. Tell me of honey, but tell me of wormwood.
I drew a forest of shadows, of light. I drew a forest in the dusk of the year, whipping its dance with joy, with fear. I drew a forest of equal measure, no one tree felling the others below with its weight. I drew a forest of dance and come again, withdraw and come dance as the wind takes me, as the dance of shadows, of light, takes me.
I drew a rune, but two came out. I drew a rune, and neither was inverted. I drew a rune, and the first was Ehwaz, who calls for a partner, who calls for a back and forth working together but that doesn’t constrict. I drew an Ehwaz who is the horse that protects the journey, the searching out for what may not even be known of to search for yet.
And with it came a Dagaz, the light in the dark, the dark in the light. And with it came the change that awakens, the fire that teaches how to dance from the coals. And with it came intuition. And with it came You are well. And with it came You know how to grow from how you have grown. You know how to be. You know how to be whole.
Amy Jo Trier-Walker lives and works on a tree and herb farm in Indiana and is the author of two chapbooks: Trembling Ourselves into Trees (Horse Less Press, 2015) and One Winter Night in the Pines (The Dandelion Review, 2016). She is the winner of the 2016 Permafrost New Alchemy Contest, and her work can be found in New American Writing, Caliban online, Ghost Ocean, Tinderbox Poetry Review, and inter|rupture, among others.