As if the one tree you love so well and hardly can embrace it is so huge so that with- out it there might be a hole in the universe explains how the killing of any one thing can likewise make a hole except that without its existence there was neither a hole nor not a hole I said to my friend Peter and after he left I walked to the tree again and put my arms around the trunk or almost did for I was embracing it preparatory should I say to its dying for it was one of the many dying trees along my river mainly sycamore and locust— you must tire I said to Peter always hearing the same trees sung the same words singing, the same heart breaking I said and con permissione I will change trees though I am almost eighty now, but what the hell, there probably are others along the river, though there was a point when social security was kicking in I didn’t go to the palms nor did I go to Boca to traffic in herons nor did I go to Miami where my people walk around in scary black suits and hats perched over their other hats just in case and just in case nor did I go to California nor stay in Iowa nor buy a farmhouse in the Pioneer Valley south of Brattleboro, thanks God, thanks God— and Peter interrupts me remembering a squirrel in Iowa that bit all the daisies, a mad squirrel of sorts but certes no madder than our own hot shots with their squirrel rifles killing squirrels from two miles up at wedding parties of all things, of all things— and that's what you mean by a hole in the universe, isn't it, Peter asks and he remembers the garden we built and what we planted, how I went to the K-Mart and bought the cardboard planters and plastic trays and how we built a fence—give way to groundhogs ye black potatoes and brown tomatoes, and ah the railroad ties there planted in gravel and it was a hole he dug—I came home one day and he was into it up to his knees— and Peter is tall, and he remembers the cosmos, I the delphiniums, but both of us hated that squirrel, eating a daisy on the highest limb of my apple tree, the one that died, and she just laughing and giving us the finger, and on my cell phone he remembers how we drove to the kingdom of used lawn mowers, I on the way yelling out the window to every mower of hill and valley, how much will you take for that lawn mower, that lawn mower, for there is progress, n’est-ce pas, isn't there Peter, I used to hate green grass but now I almost adore it, and what about the holes in Europe and Asia I ask— what of the holes in this or that heart, he says— I say repair it! He says, and are you going to plant a Berber, clever of hand, to cut the colored marble and know how it looks a distance of five miles as in that notebook you scratch away with your black and red ballpoint you are so proud of, just like the Berber chipping away knowing in your knuckles what it will look like when it's finished, each scratch critical though it's not as if you were writing by the laws of Plato—perish the thought—it is what it is—and you will look at it, you and me, and say "that’s right," not even, "that’s what I had in mind," for it is your knuckles that write, still blessed by suppleness, if not your hips, if not your knees, God bless your knees, God bless the cartilage, God bless the ligaments—you with your hole in the universe, so weird and extreme. Peter says this, and he and I trail off and since he gave me a tape of Leonard Cohen with a voice so deep it shook my red Honda, I thought therein did it lie, something about Vienna, something Brooklyn, her torn blue raincoat—or his—I can't get the gender right, the facts don’t add up, it's Jane and it rhymes with Lili Marlene, that famous lamppost, the same nostalgia, his song or hers, Peter loves the turn and does his preacherly voice, we have just half a minute or so to talk and throw sentences at one another, "no-one knows what it means," that is his favorite, "no-one can understand it," "we walk around in a fog," I say that, "and live in a mist," "we are in a Russian sweat house, climbing the bleachers, breathing pure steam." "It's like the smoke," he says, "in a Chinese painting, there are the mountains and there is the hut you’ll live in, you barely can see the trees in the little gorge left side of the hut, the green intense, the tops of fir trees almost touching the steep broken path;" "it's like living in a cloud," I say, "though the sun is shining, whatever that means, when you're healthy and money in your pocket, and walking five miles an hour by your favorite body of water it's hard to remember the cloud, you are so sure of yourself." "What made you think of a hole the way you did?" he asks. "My figures always start with the literal and the spreading is like blood spreading," I say, "and as for for the wound it comes from growing up with coal, the murder of everything green, rivers burning, cities emptied, humans herded, the vile thinking of World War I and II, the hole in England, the hole in Germany, and what we can't en- dure, the hole in Japan, Truman, the third assistant baker's helper, he should pick at his harp in Hell, when I read about Tamurlane, say, and how he piled up the heads, and David and the Moabites, he made them lie down to see who was longer or shorter and put half of them to death, it had to do with ropes, he may have piled up skulls for all I know, and Samuel the prophet loved him to pieces, and Herman Cortez and Genghis Kahn, but also, I hate to say it, private Sharon, pig Ariel, and the Lebanese jaunt, a massacre, as I remember—let's not forget the names, Sabra and Shatila"— "It's justice you want, isn't it?" quoth Peter.
From The Preacher by Gerald Stern. Copyright © 2008 by Gerald Stern. Reprinted by permission of Sarabande Books. All rights reserved.