There are no pages in her book of prayers, only a psalm

of green leaves whose language cannot be spoken,


though I have known it since I was a girl, the swish

of one sharply pointed leaf blown against another


beneath the wind’s cool breath unique, each one

its own kind of music. Then all together at once,


the rustle of wind in leaves like surf rising and falling.

The tree and I breathe together, me in my striped lawn


chair, she in her furrowed bark—her great trunk and limbs

too high for me to climb—her moss-furred roots


like stones or sleeping animals, her crown of leaves,

shiny on one side, matte on the other. There’s a word


for the sound of wind in trees, a friend tells me. I love

the idea of such a thing. But it doesn’t capture late summer,


the spicy scent of goldenrod floating down the hill, the season

turning, and the hours of daylight and darkness my red oak’s


only clock. It does not describe her leaves, leathery-green this

late in the year, insect-eaten in places, the bitten spots tattered


as lace. I reach for more, examining them for all the things

the Wisconsin survey map, circa 1830, cannot tell me.


The oak was a sapling then, taking hold on the west edge

of this drumlin, savanna where she and I both live now,


her roots finding their way toward her kin, their silent

conversations about sun-drought-rain-snow traveling through


the rich, black earth. The surveyors passed close with their

compasses and measuring chains, just on the other side


of the barbed wire fence that once kept our farmer-neighbor’s

Holsteins in and now divides our four acres from his soybeans


and Round-Up Ready corn. The tree watched it all, especially

the Ho-Chunk women gathering acorns before those men came—


grandmothers, mothers, girls laughing, wiping sweat away,

smoothing their blue-black hair, the savanna slowly changing,


the shifting green-gold understory of big bluestem grazed

down, honeysuckle and multi-flora rose creeping in.


She watches me, standing beside her, my fingers trying to read

the Braille of her bark, its ridges and valleys, her body a map


because of her age and how she anchors me here, on this hill

in the middle of the country where I never wanted to be,


my sixty-some years a third of hers, not translatable in tree time.

How is it she knows everything, even about my mother


who died when I was young? Remember, the tree whispers,

how much she loved drawing trees, especially oaks,


her hand flicking over the page, and how you tried to copy

whatever she did. Come, rest your sadness against mine. Lean


your back to the rings in my wood until you hear my slow

heartbeat. Listen to the sound of wind in my leaves.