If All

By Uche Ogbuji

Poem

Earth Day blessings, 2011
Elu anughi, Ala ga anu.—If the heavens don’t hear, the Earth will hear. (From an Igbo proverb)

If all the skies were sewers
If breezes made us gag
If flocking birds were charnel herds
What would our lungs for swag?

If all the seas were petrol
And all fresh water slops
If all the fish thrashed feverish
What sap for veins and crops?

If every storm’s potential
Were parboiled troposphere
If hurricanes swept all our planes
What home could persevere?

There burned a pyre of memory of beloved trees, one sick but healing, others that fell through the air.

Earth sign with water rising, I tended the fire. If I were made of Kevlar, I would have climbed inside the hearth and stoked with toes and fingertips.

* * * * *

The medieval maw consumed the swamp chestnut’s branches. Before we moved to this house, the tree had been neglected for more than a decade. Its sapwood oozed and festered in the summer. Rotted pulp filled the gap of its triangular wound, the illusion of strength, the texture of sponge. I named it Stinky then for the homebrew scent of its fermented sap. In spite of its illness, slime flux mold disease, Stinky was sturdy, resilient. Its shade was nearly as valuable as its beauty, so it was spared, pruned of dead and dying branches. Twigs gathered from its canopy in the fall fueled the fire’s start. A stray leaf, large as a cow’s ear, flared red at the edges and collapsed.

That tree lives, sleeping now, its roots in the rain contained by the clay.