Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

“The Branches, the Axe, the Missing”

Charlotte Pence is a poet and critic who recently received her Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Tennessee. A regular Chapter 16 contributor, she is also the author of two award-winning chapbooks and the editor of The Poetics of American Song Lyrics (University Press of Mississippi, 2012). Her work has earned numerous Pushcart nominations, the Discovered Voices award, and a fellowship from the Tennessee Arts Commission. It has appeared in Kenyon Review Online, North American Review, Denver Quarterly, Rattle, Tar River Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Southern Poetry Review, and many other journals.

from The Branches, the Axe, the Missing

Georgia July and the thought of ice storms occurred to her father.

Fifty-three loblolly pines surrounded their house back then. Fifty-three pines that could ice-
over, splinter, crash the roof.

They sat on their porch next to the strawberry patch that had given up only three berries all

Her dad liked quoting Frost and his proclamations of the world’s end—…in fire, some say ice.

He kept ten full gallons of gasoline in the garage.

Cut to fall away from the house, those pines went down within seven hours.

A boy biked by with his sister on the handlebars. She wore a headband with bunny ears.
Silver fabric where pink should have been.

The sound of falling pines was new to her, yet recognizable.

A sound slow to finish like stacked plates falling after an earthquake. Something impossible
to stop, forcing one to stand by and watch.

Just before dark, the chainsaw quieted and the bike squeaked by. The boy wore the ears now.
There was no sister.

She began her job of walking through each fallen tree top.

Such rooms within those limbs. Sometimes she did pull-ups to the next firred space. Other
times, she ape-swung and jumped down.

In one nest’s weave, she found foil from a chip bag and one wobbly line of red string. Two
weeks ago, she had torn her red dress at the edge of these woods.

Aren’t you one lucky kid? her father called from somewhere.

She stopped moving, let the tree hide her. And it did, towering even as it lay on its side.