to everyone who ever lost a sibling to war

by Donovan Borger

Remember when you told me how
the Lady of the Lake trapped Merlin in a tree?
After you died I went to all the trees in the woods
behind our house. I knocked on them, searching
for the hollow ones. I peered inside rotted trunks,
pulling myself up on scales of bark.
I didn’t find you or Merlin.
Back then I pretended I hoped you were in one.
Someone might come along and hear you scratching.
They’d cut you out, and you’d come home again,
to the yard and the orchard, to cold circles of condensation
under a glass on the patio’s weather-browned balustrade.
But if no one found you, I pretended I hoped instead of rings,
the tree would grow space for you until one day you could
walk around in it, wear paths with your steps in it
until it took on the name home.
Remember when we were little and you scraped the soles
of your shoes with every step? I’ve scraped my soles
a lot since you left. I’ve walked everywhere. Across tawny fields,
across small towns, across empty states. I figure I’m getting close
to how much you walked on deployment. I bet on your last step
you scraped your heel across the dirt. I bet you
didn’t even know what you stepped on.
When I get my own place, I’m planting a tree for you.
On the trunk I’ll nail a sign with your name on it.
I’ll tie a ring of rope around a limb and attach a tire swing to it,
like the wedding ring you wanted to wear someday,
like you’re married to evenings of legs pumping,
to the certainty of swinging, the immutability of back and forth.
When I have kids, they’ll play on the tire swing. I’ll lift them up
and put them in and push them back and forth, your nieces and nephews
who will know your face from old photos. Your tree’s limbs will hold them
as surely as if you were there.