We Shall Rest


The elm split by lightening stands
above the bench where my father sat
the summer he could no longer breathe
enough to walk to the Avalon
without stopping. I sat next to him,
a little bored, a little tired of
his child-like need—his insistence
on walking even when he could not
walk. In the film, we watched
that day, a group of actors are
rehearsing a play. The star runs through
his lines in the car in which he is
driven to and fro from his hotel
to the provincial but charming theater.
He is a person who cannot express
what he feels. But as he runs his lines
with his driver, a young sullen girl, who
appears disinterested but is not, we see
they are telling each other everything
through the borrowed words—speaking
of an estate, an orchard, some cherry
trees. My father fell asleep, woke
startled, querulous. He’d enjoyed what
he’d seen and wanted to see it again,
so we stayed, mouthing the lines of
Uncle Vanya along with the actor on the screen,
though we never discussed the film after.
Half the elm is dead—bare branches,
a seam along the trunk, but the other half
appears to flourish, fanning outward,
the fresh, green, tear-shaped leaves.
I can no longer even be annoyed by
my father, which feels like the very
definition of being mortal. The trunk of
the elm tilts slightly to catch the light from
the shadows of buildings on either side.
With luck it will live 300 years.

Sheila Black is the author of five poetry collections, most recently Radium Dream. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, and Tempe, Arizona, where she is assistant director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University.
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