Sometimes a Tree

by Elizabeth Diebold Issue: Fall 2018 Special Issue on Justice

No one knows what’s become of him, the man
who wasn’t mad but tended towards madness,
who crossed, in a rage, with a point to make,
the nearly frozen Yakoun River one January;
carried with him in a sealed garbage bag,
a chainsaw, a load of falling wedges, an axe.
How expert the cut to the tree that shone like gold
in a sea of green for three hundred legendary years.
How cunningly precise to leave it teetering
all that night on the brink of destruction until
the next morning’s windstorm took it down

and it, in turn, mowed down every lesser tree
in its path.  His court date has come and gone.
The case is closed. He was last seen
paddling north, Alaska bound.


Cars lined the road for a mile on either side
the morning the chief beat the black drum
reserved for funeral rites.  Parts of the tree
were salvaged like pieces of the true cross.
One golden twig floats in a jar of alcohol
on the reception desk of the Golden Spruce Hotel.

K’iid K’iyass, Elder Spruce Tree.  The Haida say
it was a human, an errant boy transformed
when his feet took root in the forest.  Who would stand –
strangely radiant – until the end of the world, cherished
and admired, but never spoken to.  A parable
to instruct the young and remind the old.  Of what,

I cannot say for sure.  Stories
are considered property to some
and this is not my story to tell, how even those
against killing, kill, what the felling
of one tree stands for while in every direction
the forest burns.  But sometimes a tree


that leans one way will fall another.
And what can be counted can be quantified.
It took an acre of oak forest
to build one 18th century battleship, sixty winters
to clearcut the great pineries of the north.
Two men working together using alternate swings of an axe

could fell a tree in less than half the time it took for one.
Did you know that in some languages
the words for tree and house are the same?
That ancestral spirits are said to inhabit trees?
Some believe that humans sprung from oaks.
But the oak doesn’t question the company it keeps.

And the statement it makes does no harm.
The old timers say that it’s the oaks we find our way by, the oaks
that guide the soul’s inner eye.  Sheltering,
majestic, virtuous oaks.  Imagine what it must be like
to not let the insects and worms
you are necessarily full of get the best of you.

Elizabeth Diebold

Elizabeth Diebold is a poet and woodworking artist currently residing in Amherst, MA. Her poetry has appeared (under former surname Levitski) in the Cimarron Review, Prairie Schooner, Southern Poetry Review, as well as previously in Cold Mountain Review, and others. She also has new work in or forthcoming in the North American Review and Third Coast.