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The Winter Tree
by Amal El-Mohtar
It is like this.
There is a tree in me; slim as a wrist
it branches, and leaves obscure the bark.
It is dense and rich, a fine home
for robins, finches – colours dart
between my ribs, thread golds and scarlets
around my bones, spill in and out of flight
as I breathe.
I look at you, and it winters.
Bare-boughed, skeletal crookings claw
into my throat, clatter cold,
send frosted silver spindling ache
into the smell of smoke,
the taste of snow. A wind
stiff as your spine
whimpers the buds to tightness,
coaxes sleep without dreams
of other seasons.
And it is beautiful, understand,
it is so beautiful,
a sky empty as broken glass
a sun streaking ice-light in my skin –
it is beautiful as tears are beautiful
in stories: diamantine,
with liquid at its heart
Sometimes the tree is a wound.
Sometimes it is an etching in my chest
a tidal river shaped in branches,
silted low, flooded high,
inviting in the sea –
sometimes, the tree speaks
without a mouth. Sometimes
it rustles twig-talk at your eyes,
reaching for a green, for a summer
that could have been.
Sometimes, the tree sings,
keens broken lines and lullabies,
paper-bark and thorns.
I will be a tree of salt for you –
of waves and wanting, washing clean –
and grow to the light of the moon you are,
wax and wane through briny roots
that leech the lymph from me.
I will be a tree of salt for you
because for all that I look back, and back,
I am never made a pillar,
and any step I take
will be away from you.
I will be a tree of salt for you,
and this ache I bear
will be the sky.
When the tree is quiet,
Amal El-Mohtar is an Ottawa-born child of the Mediterranean, currently pursuing a PhD in English literature at the Cornwall campus of the University of Exeter, sharpening her quills for the hunt. She is the author of The Honey Month, a collection of poetry and prose written to the taste of 28 different kinds of honey, and the winner of the 2009 Rhysling Award for Best Short Poem. Her work has appeared in many print and online venues, and is forthcoming in Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories, The Thackeray T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, and Welcome to Bordertown. She also co-edits Goblin Fruit, an online quarterly dedicated to fantastical poetry, with Jessica P. Wick, and keeps a blog somewhat tidy at Voices on the Midnight Air. .
Photography: Winter Trees 3 by Bob AuBuchon.