Clearing by Kate Sontag

Outside her window she can see the tall skinny trees in the clearing. An arborist identifies them as locusts though the species is unclear. They look like women when they sway in the wind her husband tells her one afternoon not long after he’s fallen ill. Since then, they remind her of how it feels to be at the edge of a precipice, like women have told her they feel when their husbands die.

One day unable to eat lunch, imagining him gone forever, she feels herself grow tall and skinny. It takes some time before she realizes she’s turned into one of the trees. Surrounded by others just like her, she looks down at the ground, then back at her colleagues with whom she feels an affinity as she stands higher than the houses, touching the sky’s infinite awning, almost eye level with the top of the mountain. She wonders if the people below look out their windows and recognize her.

She looks below at the stones on the earth which resemble men’s heads. A neighboring tree confirms they are, in fact, men’s heads. It is hard to see the men’s features so far down on the ground. Is her husband among those whose bodies have deserted their wives? Not knowing makes her miss him even more. If he is there she hopes he is happy, like she hears the rest of the stones are, to be among so many women looking down at them in the clearing.

She hopes the heads still think great thoughts and that if her husband sees her he can still read her mind the way he often does when they eat dinner at the long wooden table she inherited from her mother. They brought it with them to the mountains and love how much it feels like having an ancient chestnut tree in their dining room since you can see so many patterns in the grain.

Now their new home reminds her of a Giacometti sculpture she once saw called “Clearing.” Does her husband know that every afternoon she becomes one of them, Giacometti’s women? Does he know she daydreams him into a stone? It is a living breathing cemetery of sorts, but she prefers to think of it as art that might lift people’s spirits when they are ravaged by uncertainty and doubt, shifting in the breeze from one element to the next.  

Kate Sontag is co-editor of After Confession: Poetry As Autobiography (Graywolf). Recent or forthcoming publications include Comstock Review (2nd Prize 2019 Muriel Craft Bailey Contest), Crab Orchard Review, One, Raintown Review, Verse Virtual, and The Strategic Poet (Terrapin Books). Retired from Ripon College, she teaches poetry for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in the Berkshires