It began with a quaking Aspen

Anita Skeen

Anita Skeen

It Began with a Quaking Aspen was accepted as part of the MSU Library Short Edition call for work on the theme of “recovery,” in coordination with the MSU Broad Art Museum's exhibit of Beverly Fishman's art, also called Recovery. Anita Skeen is currently Professor Emerita in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University where she is the Founding Director of The RCAH Center for Poetry at MSU and the Series Editor for Wheelbarrow Books. She taught students in kindergarten through high school while working with the Kansas Arts Commission's Artist in the Schools Program; in traditional venues such as college classrooms as a Visiting Writer and Writer in Residence; and in senior citizens' centers, libraries, and at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.She has been the Coordinator of the Creative Arts Program at Ghost Ranch for 41 years, and the Fall Writing Festival for 23 years. She is the author of six volumes of poetry: Each Hand A Map (1986); Portraits (1990); Outside the Fold, Outside the Frame (1999); The Resurrection of the Animals (2002); Never the Whole Story (2011); When We Say Shelter (2007), with Oklahoma poet Jane Taylor; and The Unauthorized Audubon (2014), a collection of poems about imaginary birds accompanied by the linocuts of anthropologist/visual artist Laura B. DeLind. With Taylor, she co-edited the literary anthology Once Upon A Place: Writings from Ghost Ranch (2008). Her poetry, short fiction, and essays have appeared in numerous literary magazines and anthologies. Collaboration is an important aspect of her work and she currently involved in writing projects with poets Jane Taylor and Cindy Hunter Morgan, and visual artist Laura DeLind. In 2015, she received the William J. Beal Outstanding Faculty Award at Michigan State University.

or, wait, maybe before that
with Octopus Tree, our neighborhood
refuge, taken down by Mr. Daughtery
so he could put up a house none of us kids
wanted in the neighborhood, or even before that
when my daddy's big station wagon slid off
the ice-slick vertical driveway and took out
the pink dogwood at the bottom.

The trees have been coming down
for as long as I can remember and each one
gone was a singular loss, a singular grief
still mourned if only by me. Grief is
like that, a seed fallen on the heart, perhaps
left unattended for years, until you open
the door one day and there it is, blooming
and fragrant, and you say, Oh, yes....

Most recently it was the huge white pine
drilled through by beetles, and then the red maple,
home to chickadees and nuthatches, woodpeckers
and goldfinch, that the septic tank pumpers said
had to go because its roots covered the lid. Oh no...
I said, not that tree, it's not coming down. It didn't.
But I could not save the cedars from the chainsaws
of Consumers Power, men who left vodka bottles

in place of the limbs. The limbs of the apple tree
snap from too much weight, too much unpicked sweetness
this year. A hundred apples lay on the ground among
twigs and leaves. Two days later, the deer have eaten
them all. They have taken the pears from the lower
branches of that tree, leaving the earth scattered with
fruit missing one bite. Oh, and that quaking aspen: a start
from its roots keeps rising, leaves whispering yes, yes, yes.

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