“Palliation”

by Hadley Hury

Hadley Hury recently retired as college counselor and chair of the department of English at Hutchison School in Memphis; for ten years he also was film critic at the Memphis Flyer. Hury’s 2003 novel, The Edge of the Gulf, received strong national reviews; he followed it with a collection of stories, It’s Not the Heat, in 2007. His poetry and short fiction have appeared in numerous magazines, reviews, and journals including Image, The James Dickey Review, Green Mountains Review, Colorado Review, and Appalachian Heritage, among others. He and his wife live in Rugby, Tennessee.

Palliation

In the cool of the morning
I went out, underslept,
to treat my beautiful tree.
Hemlock woolly adelgid.
Adelges tsugae.
In a shallow trench around its base
I poured the highly toxic mix
but all the while I thought about you,
our last reports of you,
and poorly differentiated neuroendocrine carcinoma.

In the uncharted hours after midnight
the boat casts off again,
flimsy, cracked, unpurposed,
on tarry brine pleated back
by the sucking ebb of what we know,
glistened with the clinging slime of
all our ignorance and fear.
On some unseen shore the ghosts
of crumbling henges loom
in lurid torchlit shadows.
I hear druids, I hear chanteys rolling
rough like dark misshapen pearls
in the throats of sailors outward bound,
I hear the loving and the loveless
murmur incoherent hope and despair.
Blackness pulls beyond the pale
and I listen for someone known
to call to me.
I know nothing,
but somehow, somewhere,
behind or beyond,
I seem to know the trees.

The national forestry people tell us
they are treating every day now
over in the mountains.
I cling to the effort
of saving those we can,
these few particulars.

We cannot save whole forests,
save our whole selves,
but we dig the shallow trench and
fill it with the toxic mix,
into deeper holes here and there,
foreign ports in yielding bodies.

A friend recently offered a definition
of prayer which seems to me as good as any
I know at defining the indefinable:
perhaps, she said, it is simply
the offering out of any small goodness
that we may have.

In this dreamy fatal illness that we share
we know good only as we learn to feel it
here among the poisons,
persisting.

Whether, as the apostle says,
we are rooted and grounded in it, or only
kept awake by the unnamed yearning,
around you we have dug the trench.
You have us coursing through your veins
with everything we’ve got.

Published Friday, 2 November 2012