All but the bare oak
I sensed in my sleep that the pieces of some project that I had been trying to parse,
To fit together, to arrange in a fitting pattern, were not fitting:
That they were somehow false,
That the grid in which I had been trying to place them was arbitrary,
That it corresponded to nothing real.
I was dreamworking with words, tenses, like present, past, and perfect,
Trying to slot new entries into this grid, struggling to make distinctions,
To sort things consistently by type and in time,
To achieve some order, to put things in their place, to set things down,
Despite an encroaching sense that the system, the grid, the distinctions
Were immaterial, inconsistent, and disconnected from real things,
From the things they were supposed to represent,
Or those they were designed to hide.
The words, the grid, the parsing diagrams then dissolved
Into a majestic tree, a hundred feet high, standing alone
On a colorless plain against rainy clouds and cold silver light.
The oak was as wide as it was tall, leafless but no less grand,
With twisted lines from trunk to brittle twig.
And then, like leaves
chased by the wind, my entire diagram—
Reappearing as the ground out of which rose the tree—
My categories and distinctions, my system
Of flickering letters, fragile signs: These verbal leaves were erased,
First gradually, then at lightning speed.
As if by grasshoppers devouring a field, the carefully ordered words were overwritten,
Overwhelmed, obliterated, replaced, each by a single sign: Destroyed.
And in the slots of the grid where I had struggled to position words
In some meaningful way, only the sign Destroyed endured,
Blinking its warning of flights cancelled because of snow.
And I knew, even before the operation was complete, before the grasshoppers had finished
Swarming from right to left across my grid, I knew that this was irreversible,
That there was no use fighting or protesting.
The tree remained, bare as before, black against the sky,
Standing in ground that stretched away in all directions,
Ground covered, not with destruction, but with a verbal blanket
Composed of a simple sign.
Thus relieved of the task of forcing my data into categories,
I chose to open my eyes—3:32 …
I watched the clock for a few seconds—3:33 …
3:33 on the third anniverary of my young son’s death
Sometime in the solemn night of February 25th—
Two thousand ten.