Poem: Black Walnut

You do know their roots poison everything in their paths,
don’t you?

                                                            —Melinda Rizzo
Of all the magnificent trees under whose root ball
I might lie, of all places to lose my last bits of self,
poison or no, black walnut is for me,
for I love her frondy leaves,
her circumspect bark, neither too fine
nor too rough, and good for colic.
I love her high, straight bole, how the eventual branching off
is perfect cantilever for a swing. I love
the citrus tang of her green pods, their heft in hand,
thud on the ground. I love
the muscular squirrels leaping limb to limb and
the squirrels’ wile and their fierce chittering
for sovereignty. I love the obdurate
shells and their brain-shaped meat. I love
dappled shade in summer, lacy silhouettes in winter. I love
how they show where the water is, by refusing to be
anywhere else. I love the satin grain of the wood,
its raveling flow revealed at last, and even
the toxicity, the loneliness, I love.
Oh, yes, black walnut—when I have grown past old,
let me weave myself in your silken stem
bite with your acerbic green
stain the fingers of late scavengers with juglone ink
drink deep through your taproot clearest water
under bedrock, under tonnage of earth
and flimsy bone cage. I will be
a kingdom of squirrels, light-eater, shape-shifter,
murderous as life.

Cleveland is a poet and mail artist from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She is a contributing editor for Poetry Writers in the Schools and hosts the poetry series for the New Bridge Group artists’ collective. Her work has appeared in Schuylkill Valley Journal, Möbius Magazine, and online in New Purlieu Review.

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