Sport 36: Winter 2008
The crashed tree in its slew of mud
and rocks rose before the taxi, like a giant
with staring eyes—it must have fallen
minutes after the driver rounded
the corner to collect me. Feeling a little dizzy
I stated the obvious: 'Gee, if we'd been earlier,
it could've fallen on us.' Our neighbour's old
hatchback was empty under the huge
net of branches. Needing to make
the strange mess real, I called you.
For weeks afterwards the big corpse
was whittled away by unseen workmen—
it started with feathery branches
severed from the strong trunk,
then, bit by bit, the picture vanished
until an unremarkable grey log
lay by the verge. Finally, it became
a warty stump, propped up
against the bank. The crushed car
travelled a similar journey—first
its squashed back was nakedly displayed,
then a bright blue tarpaulin hid the mess
until, decoupled from disaster, it shifted
over the road. Our winding street
returned to rain and wood pigeons.
In the book of photographs you found
for me, trees were everywhere,
sturdy guardians with their roots
deeper in red soil than the buildings
of rural Alabama, adrift from the economy.
Stores with Coca Cola signs of the sweetest
faded red stood by dirt roads, flanked by trees.
Year after year, as the photographer returned,
signs disappeared, doors were nailed over,
and the ribs of buildings poked through.
Sometimes, only a square of concrete
or a space in the grass remained,
surrounded by even taller trees.
Then came churches, roofs, elaborate
houses—fallen, smothered or gone.
I asked if you liked the pictures.
'Some of them,' you said, adding
swiftly, 'but there's too much
old shit'—and suddenly it seemed
the book was about oldness and death,
and without hesitation the world could tip
to sleek showrooms full of shiny cars,
giant silver TVs, brighter and sharper
than our lives, walls fresh with paint,
and there it would be—the new shit.
The relentless soaking rain continued
over our small city—banks crumbled,
houses and apartment blocks were evacuated,
comments made by the anxious or stoic,
and you found your own crashed tree.
'It's blocking one whole lane on the hill,'
you said, and as we rounded the corner
our headlights picked out the body
of a kowhai lying across the slick road.
This time the unseen workers
disposed of it more swiftly—by 8.00am
a few discreet logs were tucked
onto a bank above the road. Our silver
car with its glowing dials and stereo
swept past—for now, we were free to go.