The 2River View 28.3 (Spring 2024)

Laura McCullough

The Birdhouse Queen

He called me a human buzzsaw & didn't
mean it as a compliment. I said, This
is how the wood gets chopped. There was
too much wood—wood everywhere—
which led me to start training seedlings
& saplings in my backyard, pulling them
from the ground & forcing them
into pots, thinking about the relationship
between roots & branch. What is above
so below, & I was angry at the accusation
of competence at managing so much
so fast, yet it wasn't enough. He wanted
my attention. All I gave was my execution.


How to Take Care of Trees, Sugar

First, fall in love with one. You want
to touch it, slip fingers under the surface
soil to sense the root base, the possibilities
of what is below that might be worth
exposing, consider how you might tease
the roots into a fan shape, whether they mirror
what is above, and you will shape it—
prune, cut, wire—
            & tend it—
            water, feed, pot it—
                       & ask if it bows to you.

Its elegant photosynthetics (think: leaves)
will mesmerize you as they hum in the air,
respirating gases, magically absorbing light,
water moving through its vascular system
providing electrons so hydrogen & carbon
            (plus light) will be
transformed into glucose (sugar,) and Sugar,
you will not care because soon you find
you do not own a tree but are the caretaker.
            Maybe you will think about science,
but mostly, you will be compelled by some
(can I say magical again) force to check your tree
each morning, assess the moisture in the soil,
move it if it seems its getting too much light
or not enough, snip dried or yellow leaves,
mist it, remove bugs, caress it, & breathe
on it. Yes, you will breathe on it, and no,
you are not a small god, & yes, you think
your aesthetic sense is fine & have drawn
out the shape of this tree from a wild form
to a curated one, and in the wiring given
it arms & a torso & a neck that bends
as if it honors you, but really—can I say this?--
you are a just little servant to the green
godliness you are now obligated to protect,
worry over, & provide for. In this way,
you will evolve & become something better.

Laura McCullough is the author of, among others, Women & Other Hostages (Black Lawrence Press), The Wild Night Dress (selected by Billy Collins in the Miller Williams Poetry Series, University of Arkansas Press), and Panic (winner of the Kinereth Gensler Award, Alice James Books). website
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