Dendrochronology

by John A. Nieves


I: The Event

The sun had slid a tad past its crest
when the war cries began to compete
with the birds and the brook to score

the afternoon. The battle never arrived
though all blades were sharpened, all

clubs expertly weighted. Thunder drowned
all other sounds. Rain turned the enemy
into the outline of the enemy. One warrior

rested his back against rough bark. This
is when it happened. This is where it

happened. The mountain molted—shivered,
seemed to grow, while its old skin slid
toward them, told them darkness.

II: The Burial

The one at rest was crushed in place,
his ribs splayed and wrapped around
the tree as far as they could reach. Weapons

were washed down the earthstream
from their wielders, as if mudslides

were pacifists. And hate and fear met
sediment and mica chips and silica
and became the new ground, became solid.

III: The Wait

A scene preserved. Three bodies swept up
against the man-tree, seven just past. An axe
well after that. Above, the fields were sown,

above the sun was taught its fixed position,
words became things easily stored, carts learned
how to move on their own. Men asked for shovels

and shovels were granted. They were not digging
for treasure, or shelter, or fuel. They were digging
for stories, for new words to package the land in.

IV: Unearthing

It started with a sliver of sunlight high in the branches,
something they had not felt in millennia. In the same few

inches, a war club that must have been forced up
in the wave of mud. This made them believers. They

reached into their pockets for their loved ones, their
colleagues. The strata were messy. No one was quite sure

to when they were digging. But when they reached
the base of the trunk and found the flat skull, the bones
hugging bark, bottles popped, cheers rose into the morning.

V: Cross Section

They were mining for time, but time was not cooperating.
The artifacts seemed anachronistic. Stern men praised
the mud for the find and cursed it for scattering the years.

Man and tree were separated, one to be taken apart, one
to be reassembled. A susurrus hung around the site:
a busy fog thick with the news that history was asleep

in the tree trunk—this is where dates could be harvested.
Teeth sped into old wood, or mineral, the oak corpse.
Slices of seasons met fluorescent light.

VI: The Reading of Rings

Regardless of the thousands of scrapes and splinters,
he had soft hands—soft enough to feel rings through
the gloves. This was the interpreter, the master sequencer.

He would chant his findings like a serial number:
draught, famine, healthy season, draught, fire, rainy season—

through certain magics, this shaman could make the chant
into an era, read history back into the scene, transmute

the seasons into numbers, force those newly born
numerals into a line.


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