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Note: published in the anthology What Would You Call This Gem of a Forest: Perspectives, Thoughts, and Essays on Jackson Demonstration State Forest, Mendocino Trail Stewards, 2021; ISBN: 978-0-578-32588-0; a fundraiser for their activism in support of the trees;

The Tree of Life


The tree of life is carved into a wooden box.
I am the tree of life.
The tree of life exists in the doorway of Congress.
I am the tree of life.
The tree of life is made over and over again in China.
It surrenders and rolls, packages and stands, leaps from high buildings,
is voluntary, orbital, comely, diseased. Mark its trunk with your initials
using a dull knife. Make wands from its branches,
shoes from its heart. Layer the ozone with pretty little packages of oxygen gone mad.
You are the tree of life. We thumb books whose pages are thin slices
of wood pummeled into pulp and dragged through machines and heat-pressed.
Write the book of the tree of life; print it on leaves, on roots; but don’t eat
the fruit unless you are prepared to be transfigured.
Don’t stand in the mirror of the water, don’t let the branches
drip sap down into your hair. Measure carefully before cutting.
Make sure it is grand enough, your plan. Include some birds in it.
Some flowers perhaps at the base of the trunk, some cloth on which to sit
and in which to wrap yourself because soon the tree of life will be everywhere
dispersed and there will be no forests except in dreams. We will have become
the tree of life and out of it will step the surprising creature, the unadorned
and mottled truth.


Theresa Whitehill
from the collection, Internal Combustion: Botanica Poeia

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