A Prayer for The Acorns
Oak Tree trembled at the story of First Tree. First Tree bore the fruit of good/evil, was angered when the bite gave Man First Tree’s knowledge, laughed when Man tried to become like First Tree to hide. Now a seedling, Oak Tree fears growing but hopes to have a story as great as First Tree.
Oak laughed at the stories Palm and Cedar told, each one trying to best the other. I was trampled by Messianic donkey feet, said Palm, and have a day named after me. I was the True Cross, said Cedar, and humans bow down to me. Yew shut them both up by asking who wanted to credit for the wars fought in the name of that messiah.
Oak shivered from earththunder as Hickory bellowed its story, showing off freedom in wagon wheel form. The forest said trees moving would be like Man breathing moon air, but Hickory went west with the young men, outrunning all manner of Indians and bullets and bandits. Sure, their twigs snap and their sap runs red all over the dirt, Hickory said with a wink, but they keep planting more Men. Now, young and growing stronger, Oak tired of the view, wanted adventure. But his roots held fast. The time for my story will come soon enough, he told himself.
Oak swayed in the winds of the story of Birch, beautiful and majestic as the Spruce Goose. It is not for us to leave the ground, the others said. I have faith in this Man, Birch said. He will change the world. They scoffed. The last man who spoke of faith started the arguments between Palm and Cedar. And besides, trees that fly drop fire from the sky and scorch us all. Birch said they couldn’t see the human for the multitudes, and left.
Oak cheered Maple’s story of being a Louisville slugger swinging in Man’s hands. You want to talk history, sapling, Maple said. Four hundred homers. One more and we’re golden. The others shook their disapproval. Man also swings you against his wife’s head. Perhaps, said Maple, but for a while, this beating is just a game.
Now, Oak, tall and proud, was ready, more than ever, to see more and be more than the stairs of shops, the rooves of banks, the shutters of houses, the fate of ordinary trees. And, as if hearing his impatience, a man came, a man with dark bark, and a woman with pale bark followed, and they danced and laughed and made love at Oak’s trunk. For now, Oak said. Enjoy your time. I’ve got other plans, bigger plans. I’m going to make history.
Oak saw more men, pale barked this time, surveying its land, slapping its trunk, testing their weight on its branches. Oak sturdied, tried on Birch’s faith, seeing where hope for a good story would have to be hemmed in or let out. This is it, Oak thought. This is my time.
Oak chuckled with glee and anticipation when the pale men came back, this time in droves, singing and dancing and praying and playing. Oak was proud. They have seen me, he said. Then, the man with dark bark, ropes around his ankles and wrists, whipped like a reed as he was dragged to Oak Tree’s lowest branch. Oak stayed silent. A pale man, telling stories of the First Tree, of Man’s punishment for the sin of partaking in the forbidden, threw a rope over Oak’s lowest branch, looping one end around the neck of the dark barked man and tying the other to a horse. Almost every man celebrated but not the dark barked man. Oak was puzzled. The story man slapped the horse. It galloped forward. The man with dark bark dangled, legs kicking for ground that was no longer there, arms flailing at air. The dark man’s eyes, bulged, looked at Oak, grabbed for a branch just inches from the man’s flexing twigs. The other men shouted and cheered from the ground. Confused, Oak thought of the stories of the other trees and found no answers in that moment. When the jerking of that branch stopped, Oak looked back at the dangling body, now pitching like a pendulum in the breeze. Oak begged for bore ash, for chainsaw, for sulfuric flame.
But no relief came for either of them.
PHOTO CREDIT: Pexels
That night, frail and ashamed, a new leaf hanging on its lowest branch, Oak prayed for the acorns scattered through its branches and falling to the ground, and wondered how it would tell them this story.
W. David Hall teaches English at iLEAD North Hollywood, a charter high school in Van Nuys, CA, where he is also co-coach of the school’s poetry slam team. He directs the Kenyon Young Writers Program in summer. He has had pieces published in The Literary Heist, The Battered Suitcase, Callaloo, and The Kenyon Review. The story published in Callaloo (“Prince Valiant Works The Black Seam”) was also included in Best African-American Fiction 2010. He is currently working on a novel and a series of parables much like “Oak Tree Envies.”