Dendrochronology of a Family Tree

(The poem is visually arranged like the rings inside the stump of a tree, with a black border resembling the stump.)

(first ring)
i don’t have a family tree, but when i imagine mine, it is an old stump, a cut, a cross-section, a diagram that can only properly be read when dead. it feels more honest to represent a family this way. i understand the romantic appeal of a family tree: children as low-lying leaves flowing down from parents on branches reaching up into a celestial antiquity. how full a family must feel that way. but trees truly grow up and out. 

(second ring)
new growth in trees comes from the outer-most layer, living cambium. most of what is dead cannot be seen except in the way it echoes through the wood. the events past, long lost to memory, still haunting the body. i don’t think we can fully imagine what we are attempting to grow from as much as what we are trying to grow into, 

(inner ring)
we might not recognize, knotted into a long pattern, here we are, 

(second ring)
chasing the light.

(third ring)
some open wounds are generations old. we have not been able to heal fully. these we have simply come to accept. others we can move beyond with time and effort, in the years when things are strained, the gaps between generations widen, the rings are thinner. i think i can forgive this. i know how hard it is to be kind under stress, the way 

(fourth ring)
the tenderness hurts. i understand. and though i am not as patient as i’d like to be, i think i am

(block insert)
trees can envelop branches that don’t advance 
to support growth where it is wanted,
an absent father replaced by a man
who will love his daughter, his own.

(fourth ring)
learning from my father. and though i am not as brave as i’d like to be, i think i’m learning from my brother. i think i have my mother’s mind,

(fifth ring)
i have my grandfather’s hands, and my grandmother’s mouth, and curls from someone i have never even met. trees grow up and out with a posture that positions them as best as possible to succeed, despite all the faults 

(sixth ring)
we inherit, we fortify. we grow up. and out of all i’ve learned, in and about life, i think i most appreciate what a cut can teach us about how to heal, how to keep on building. 

(seventh ring)
even broken things are beautiful when you can appreciate them, remember them, the sun pouring through the vulnerabilities.

(eighth ring) 
the oldest, deepest parts of ourselves, those we desperately try to forget, help hold us,

(ninth ring)
our family helps hold us, and we all grow in the light.

(Please click on the image and use the zoom function to read the poem. A transcript is available in the ALT text.)

Self Portrait with Rain

But, /
somewhere: dawn and the hum of hollowing /
seeds planted in dry weather, like a sigh /
or shout or song for when the sky /
breaks open and gives out /
something kinder than light.

Happy and Well

She told my grandmother on the phone,
Sometimes—they’re just too happy.