Grandmother Butler
grew up with the pines
that dotted her acres.
Her grandpa Diebold
first planted them,
edging the house,
the gravel drive,
the property line.
She watched her daughter
who once could leap
the saplings
grow tall and straight.

Her parents are gone now,
her husband vanished,
her daughters grown and married.
She sits on the porch
and communes with the trees.
Some skirt the house —
she walks soft needle loam
to her raspberry patch.
Squirrels are there in the branches,
black snakes steal eggs
from the hapless robins.
Jays and crows,
cardinals and tanagers
live tier by tier
in their sheltered nests.

Each season a song —
bird twitter spring,
storm hum summer,
cone-drop in autumn,
the groan of trunk
in snapping winter.

They are an orchestra
eternally in tune,
black pyramids at night
against the burning stars,
a comforting wall
against the whippoorwills,
the mountain lions,
the howling winds.

One winter day
she’s digging down
to the dregs of her coal pile,
filling a pail for the stove,
when a great truck
lumbers in,
piled high with coal.
Two men follow
in a black Studebaker,
tell her they’ll dump
as much as she needs —

enough to last her
through widow’s winter,
all the way to April.
She hesitates.
They mention her neighbors,
Wingroves and Sweeneys,
Ulleries and Dempseys:
some winters back
they helped them too.

She doesn’t answer them;
her head shakes ever
so slightly no; the man
exhales an ice cloud,
chilled hands shrugged in
at his elbows. The other
starts up the car to back it
away and out to the road.

“It’s just a good neighbor thing”
he tells her. “The Almanac, it says
it’s going to a terrible winter.”
“All right,” she says. “Thank you.”
She lets them dump coal.
All they want is a signed receipt,
oh, and they’d like
to trim a few trees
for the nearby sawmill.
She hesitates again —
they mumble some words
about another delivery
next winter.

She signs.
Hard winter sets in.
The ziggurat of coal
diminishes to sludge,
black dust in melting puddles.

She goes off in May
to visit her daughters,
hold their new babies.
When she comes back
the pines are gone,
     all of them
reduced to stumps,
her acres exposed
to passing cars.

All night the animals
scream in the forest.
Homeless squirrels,
nestless sparrows
hysterical robins,
even the prowling wind,
with nothing to rub against,
makes angry vectors
among the boulders.

Then she finds the paper
in the kitchen cupboard,
reads with her glasses
the fine print over her signature.
Far off, the ripsaws mock her
as she reads and repeats
what she gave to the stranger —-
not just once but forever­
like a contract
with a rapist,
     her rights, her
          timber rights.


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