Epithalamion in the Wake; Elders Speak of the Windchimes; & Anti-Elegy for the Trees

Anti-Elegy for the Trees


How tired I’ve grown of the trees      their weeping 

boughs, the musty slop of the leaves      they discard, wanton, wet


on the ground      their seedy fruit ripened into rancor 

their stagnation that passes      for something like humility


their relentless decay     into barely mortared shrapnel 

duned under mossed earth      until a storm presses


the full brunt of its heel     how they made of me a wary child 

who knew to dread a hurricane       mostly for what the trees could do


as it raged, how they seem to lean      into splintering fragility

lean       up against our human softness


\ \


What I know of indignity      I unearthed in my father’s black 

eyes      when Isabel’s kicking gusts snapped that terrible White


Oak      The grandest tree I knew, it held the roots 

of his pride, which drew into early winter      as he was forced to crawl 


callused hand over foot     over the downed tree’s berth, through split

branches and clumped burrs      just to get to work that day, crushing 


what remained      of robins’ and squirrels’ thatched dens—

evidence of some urge that possesses wildlife       to nest 


in the ficklest of outgrowths       Though who am I to judge 

another’s home, knowing myself what it is to shelter


in something bound for ash 


\ \ \


Procyon lotor; Vulpes vulpes; Ursus americanus        the words I didn’t have then

for what the other bankers must have thought       of my father, his skin


scratched and slick with struggle      The animal they cast of him       

in the flimsy silence      of glances—worse, of looking


away. The nerve of them those damned trees, to, lie 

lifeless, as if they understand what we never could      As if so evolved


beyond any foolish hope      that it’s possible to rise again after so brutal

a culling, that there is anything to do in that wake      but allow oneself 


to be cleared away,     in whatever manner most pleases the upright 

Who are we to deny the carpenter his craft?       the trees ask, mocking


How they loom over us even the long-petrified      

in this righteous better knowing


\ \ \ \


Yes, it’s true, we need them      and I’ll concede their beauty, but how I tire, too,
and sooner still 

of beauty—especially the kind we understand      as needed—


the kind that looks most fantastic in relief      as dark absence framing a low hanging  sun, and is so defined by its inverse      by what can be marked as ugly, or sorrier 




\ \ \ \ \


Look, I can’t make sense of this scabbed grudge     

Thorns nestled in the sweetness of my throat


stick me at the thought       of his dirty shirt, of that day I fell

out of my beloved playground Maple     Bark grating my stomach


I slid, in sap-slow agony     onto the sand that spat like gunpowder 

under my shoes, my hands hot with betrayal      My blouse relieved of its pearl buttons


How dare that tree not hold me      as had its kind so many of mine before? 

My arms not taut, not braided twine     and so not rope enough? 


\ \ \ \ \ \


Please, excuse my coarse tone       my manners more pitiful than strewn limbs 

I’ve tried to swear off speaking ill of the dead       (I could argue


for the gray area of the dying)      though that promise means nothing  

except this: I’ll bite my tongue    only when the last tree blackens


And even then, so many will grieve       their burning 

whereas any tears welled      in the aftermath of our fires, of all those 


burnings      were pulled from onlookers’ ducts

merely by the sting of smoke      Oh trees, how I fear you


haven’t taught me much      more than the difference      

between weeping      and watering eyes


Ariana Benson is a Black Southern ecopoet. Their debut collection, Black Pastoral (UGA Press, 2023), won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. A 2023 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, Benson also received the 2022 Furious Flower Poetry Prize. Her poems and essays appear or are forthcoming in Poetry, Ploughshares, Poem-a-Day, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere.