I Climb the Old Cedar Again
By Elias Orrego
I climb with great speed,
I reach hand-over-hand,
grass below becomes smaller, and smaller.
I fly through the branches.
Swift and dreamy as the days
and the years
of a child with his mother.
I'm climbing the one with soft, fingerlike boughs,
that stands higher
than any trunk seen around.
The one I learned not to climb,
after the branch broke
(when my mother was home).
The one time I made the mistake,
I heard screaming. In an anxious,
her words shook me (but I didn't listen)
from the roots just above earth,
to the uppermost cone
that I craved.
I heard worried cries
turned to sobs
as I rode the tree down,
jumping every second
to the branch just below.
I saw a face red and trembling,
not warm with anger,
but afraid, disappointed,
the way her brows sunk--
like the branches,
when I missed a day of climbing--
into her eyelashes holding up tears,
the way tree boughs hold rain, forgiving
the uncaring night.
That was the first night that I couldn't sleep.
The first time I heard Mother coughing,
the stress of the day was as much
as the tree,
the time a branch broke underfoot.
That short millisecond of air,
between thinking I would die
and knowing I was safe.
Came back to haunt me.
I could see Mother at the bottom of the tree,
trembling, seeing my hang on the branch
that I grabbed just in time
scared to lose her only son.
From that day on, I waited till Mom left the house,
and the car door closed.
I would check–the exhaust puffed behind her, in the driveway.
Then, for an hour or two,
however long she was gone, at the time,
(it depended on what she was doing,
be it biopsies, check-ups,
or picking up prescriptions)
I was free
to trace my hand over the furry knots,
tug on the vines of bark strips,
bounce and swing
on the branches curving downward
on my cedar tree.
But last night when Mother was placed on the stretcher
and carried with the oxygen tank by her side,
shut up in the emergency truck
wailing down the street,
she left for the last time.
My Aunt, who came to care for me
in the confusion of blaring sirens,
flashing red lights and tears,
still sleeps as I climb,
my way lit by the dark blue of morning.
Just barely enough to carry
my weight to the top of the tree
where I sit, long past the sun, rising
behind overcast, mourning.
One hundred feet up in the air,
a child in her arms,
I am crying
and she knows how to comfort.
She rocks me, gently
(the wind blows, surrounding me)
as I sit on the top of my cedar
her lullaby eases my pain:
The morning birds sing
to welcome the dawn.
She holds me close, my shaking stops.
I am warm.
sun floods into the sky,
drying tears, lighting up all
I now see.