My mother’s favorite photograph of me—
I am seven or eight, plaid shorts, shirt—both cranberry—
bowl haircut, black socks, a double-tongued brass grommetted belt
and crepe-souled oxford lace-ups (black) in which I felt
able to climb just about anything and did.
I, climber. That dirty kid
in the neighborhood with clouds in his eyes,
bark under his skin, bark scabbed into his knees, his pale thighs
and itching for a purchase high above the brown composite shingles.
A loner with a view, a thought. In my pocket, Skittles,
maybe a book and always a plan
to stay up and away as long as I could and can
you blame the climber for inhabiting the idea
of bodark, of live oak? Of waxy magnolia?
Up high and loving it—the pure good
of leafy being, letting the clammy wood
bore into my back I, for a couple of hours,
watched tiny construction men fit steel girders to the towers
rising among the dozen or so white and yellow cranes,
rising to the call, it seemed, of their Utopian names:
Electronic Data Systems, Medical City,
Trammel Crow Village, Park Central Two, Plaza Infinity—
I could reach out my hand. I could almost create.
I could order and reorder the entire state
of Texas as it boomed and busted wide into my blue sky
while far below me the wishbone double-Y
of freeways slamming together and splitting apart
crashed and rolled past True Value Hardware and Abdul Mini Mart
sounding, my mother said, sort of like an ocean.
“The Gulf, the gulf,” she said, her diction
flat as Midland or clogged, at times, as traffic—
motioning me into the frame of her Instamatic
with its glacier-blue flash-cube,
each of its four sides framing a magnesium tube
which would—at the push of a button—both explode and be contained.
Earlier it’d rained
and it must have been the spring.
My mother’s favorite redbud tree was hemorrhaging
from each of its hundred faithful limbs
as were most of her other prized specimens:
tulip trees, dogwoods, the bearded wisteria
all skirted with brick and pine fence to keep those Oklahoma
out, out of our manicured half-acre’s-
worth of doable paradise.
Nothing grand or showy. Comfortable. “Nice
enough,” my father said.
My mother is arranging me—“your arms, your head—
look up, look out—”
I could probably care less. This tree is small, about
three times my mother’s height
and I am only seen and cannot see. “That’s right—”
she snaps and flashes. Snaps and flashes again.
The photograph is in a silver frame on her secretary in the den
beside the inkwell and the miniature Tiffany safe.
She says it’s “Brad and Flowering Judas—which is the Tree of Lost Faith.”