Carolyn Oliver


We woke to find a collar,
bubbled murk of mushrooms,
cinching the dying oak.
An unexpected kingdom
only our small son might enter.

Did he, unnoticed, step
through that fairy ring to graze
the pale lichen bursting
over the bark, or encircle
a low branch with his weight?

That night, the cough broke
free of his chest. His lips blued.

In a thin-lit cold room
his mottled arms embraced
the machine as if to root
them both to Earth. Waiting
behind the wall we saw white
bloom inside his fragile form:
plump cells hoarding water.

In our oak’s sapling days
we would have feared the gasp
in the dark, his departure
to another realm, the "we" of our
lives shrunken, maybe silenced.

Many oaks ago, our mothers
whispered charms against the snare
pulling taut to steal breath.
Now magic is cloying pink,
and no magic at all—
merely swift deliverance.

Moon obscured, a threshing storm
ushers in a downy sunrise haze,
and laughter foams upstairs.
Outside, the old oak stands undressed
of leaves and fungal ruff; snapped
like a twig from a broken nest,
one damp stem points at our door.

We do not stop to count the ways
we too might have vanished
before morning, but wreathe ourselves
in gratitude, witnesses
to a phantom season cut short
before our own.

Carolyn Oliver

is a graduate of The Ohio State University and Boston University and lives in Massachusetts with her family. Her work is forthcoming in The Worcester Review and has appeared in Day One, Tin House's "Open Bar," Scoundrel Time, America, matchbook, and elsewhere.