For She Is A Tree Of Life – Marge Piercy

In the cramped living room of my childhood

Tree - leaf canopy
Tree – leaf canopy (Photo credit: blmiers2)

between sagging rough-skinned sofa that made me itch

and swaybacked chair surrounded by ashtrays

where my father read every word of the paper

shrouded in blue smoke, coughed rusty phlegm

and muttering doom, the rug was a factory

oriental and the pattern called tree of life.


My mother explained as we plucked a chicken

tree of life: I was enthralled and Hannah

my grandmother hummed for me the phrase

from liturgy: Eytz khayim hee l’makhazikim

bo v’kol nitee-voteh-ho shalom:

for she is a tree of life to all who hold her fast,

and the fruit of her branches is peace.


I see her big bosomed and tall as a maple

and in her veins the beige sugar of desire

running sometimes hard, surging skyward

and sometimes sunk down into the roots

and clay and the bones of rabbits and foxes

lying in the same bed at last becoming one.


I see her opening into flushed white

blossoms the bees crawl into. I see her

branches dipping under the weight of the yield,

the crimson, the yellow and russet globes,

apples fallen beneath the deer crunch.

Yellow jackets in the cobalt afternoon buzz

drunken from cracked fruit oozing juice.


We all fit through her branches or creep

through her bark, skitter over her leaves.

Yet we are the mice that gnaw at her root

who labor ceaselessly to bring her down.

When the tree falls, we will not rise as plastic

butterfly spaceships, but will starve as the skies

weep hot acid and the earth chafes into dust.


Marge Piercy.

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