Matthew Wimberley

Elegy with an Emblem for Death Carved into a Tree

I remember a few leaves in the river—
running along beside them
in what seems now to have lasted
an entire summer—
and the river’s simplicity,
swirling the leaves
into symbols I had no names for.
I lived on a gravel road
with miles of forest out beyond
my bedroom window. The dogs
slept all day in the middle of the street
and no one bothered them.
Tonight, I ask the cold water
if it remembered me
but it keeps changing
asking for the question again
and the trees reflect on the surface
more bare than the day before.
Years pass. Always
the leaves come back
as if sentenced to watch
over everything all at once: the fox
moving with ease between whips
of blackberry thorns,
the firework stand across the state line,
oil draining into a pan
carried off by the mechanic
with a cleft lip—his name embroidered
on a patch and ironed
onto his chest. And also,
the swearing in of chainsaws
at the start of the workday
and the voices of twelve people,
men, women, children,
living together in a trailer home
rusting into thinner pieces
of nothingness. It took twenty-two years
to understand suffering
to hear it in the deep green return
of leaves, in the desire
to go away for good, to be wind
or the swift current.
My father had to die and become final
for me to think like this
as if the leaves were forced
to come back. I go on living
by the river alone. I talked for months
to the black willow I know
will outlive us all: me, and the crows
which never seem to fly,
even the koi in a man-made pond
only miles from here, where I stand
watching the leaves fall into the water
underneath the older stars
sometimes called dead of night.
Right there, I fell in love
with death. I went out of the night
and began to see it everywhere—
in the yellow and blue can
of Acetone, the cottonmouths
bathing on the far shore, the shed skin
of sunlight flecked from them,
and in the faces covered in blood
playing over and over
all day on television. And I think
of all of the time I spent
talking to the trees
and to the river, to whatever
would listen to the words
I made. To the heart shape
I carved into the willow
and then my initials and then
the symbol for death
which had been there
years earlier whorled in the river.
It has synonyms the tongue can’t guess at
but they mean the work fire makes
of a body— it sounds like the word after
all the words you will ever say
not knowing which
will be your last.

Holding My Father Again

When I take what remains
into the cool night
as if to show how it all goes on
without you, I do it the way
a hawk takes the arc of the moon
under her beak and waits
for sleep. I do it with two hands
so it seems I am holding
something else—a stillborn
fawn carried toward emptiness
under a black sky.
My eyes dismantle the dark—
the trees from the hillside,
the salt rusted truck
from the overgrown grasses
and late wildflowers
still believing in summer.
Opening my mouth
I hear the stars cry
through my throat. I forget
the mechanics of my arms
the motion of freeing the ashes
which could become any shape
the wind desires. Slowly
I wander the hearts’ wilderness
on cut feet. Here, kneeling
I touch the tangles of earth snow will erase,
touch the nothing of you,
entrusted to me.

Matthew WimberleyMatthew Wimberley lives in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. His chapbook “Snake Mountain Almanac” was selected by Eduardo C. Corral as the winner of the 2014 Rane Arroyo Chapbook Contest from Seven Kitchens Press. Winner of the 2015 William Matthews Prize from the Asheville Review and a finalist for the 2015 Narrative Poetry Contest, his writing has appeared in The Greensboro Review, The Missouri Review, Narrative, Orion, The Paris-American, Poet Lore, Rattle, Shenandoah, and Verse Daily. Wimberley received his MFA from NYU where he worked with children at St. Mary’s Hospital as a Starworks Fellow. Wimberley was a finalist for the 2015 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award.

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