Michael Martone

Van Zimmer’s Tree Zoo

I’d like to say that the tree I have in the zoo is an endangered tree. It is one of the last elms or an American chestnut. An ash. Or the tree is an example of the state’s official tree–the tulip poplar. Or say the tallest or oldest sycamore, or a sycamore transplanted here from the banks of the Wabash. But the tree is just a run of the mill tree. A maple, I think. And not even a sugar bush maple. It is just a trash tree. What makes it special is this–it’s the only tree for miles in any direction left on this vast empty plain. You know grass is very smart. It has tricked us with its grain, its corn into making war on the forests, clearing the fields of shade, uprooting roots. It wasn’t like I even planted this specimen. It sprouted there in the grain bin, mulched by the ears and cobs. I like to watch those science shows on the TV, the ones that use time lapse film to record the way plants unfold, grow and bloom in the blink of an eye. I have been on this land for years and years, working the rotation. Beans to corn. Corn to beans. Beans to corn. Over and over. It’s the least I can do to capture this one wild tree. Bottle it up. Impose upon it a kind or time quarantine, an embargo of place. In the fall, after the fields have been gleaned, I like to watch the tree’s dyed leaves fall inside the cage. It’s like television. Those leaves then get caught in there, and the wind agitates them, swirls them around and around inside the bin, scouring the whole thing with smears of color.

.

*

.

The Annual Metal Detector Migration

We are smack dab in the middle of the flyway, the great north/south corridor that runs between the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico on up into Michigan’s iron rich mitten and the shingle shores of the UP. They arrive each spring in ones or twos, scouts we call them, a vanguard to the main flock that follows. Soon thereafter, the whole town of Winesburg is beset by murmurations of metal detectors in long lines, scalloped, wave on wave, their wands arching back and forth before them, their heads muffed with their earphones, lost within the sonic soundscape. They find a lot of nails and roof tacks, gum wrapper foil, and change, lots of change, especially in the streets near the parking meters where people, getting out of cars, going for coins in their pockets spill an extra dime or two in haste. For them, it’s not worth it now to stoop and retrieve the leavings. Let it go to the migratory scavengers who will be here soon enough and who still relish the odd coin, a chance at finding a Mercury or buffalo among the dross in the margin, the gutter, the sidewalk crack. We watch them from our front porches as they sweep the streets and sidewalks silently. Many carry little shovels, beat-up trowels, cinch bags for bootie at the waist. They stare intently into the ground they tread as if they can see through the layers of accident and loss beneath their feet. And, of course, they can. They pantomime an archeology each visit, intent, listening for that ping of a thimble, a safety pin, a spring of coiled spring.

.

*

.

The National Mourners Union, Local 440

Who will mourn us, unionized mourners, when the Funeral Directors, Cemetery Sextons, Dioceses and Congregations break us? We are locked out already, outside looking in at the scab mourners graveside. We might as well be ghosts the way the processions and corteges blow through our picket lines. There is a method to mourning, the sadness sculpted by our own experience of grief of course but also the daily craft of keening we hone with the strop of constant sorrow. Our weeping might be practiced but it is sincere, and our demands are not extreme. A living wage is all we ask to sustain our professional attention to all this dying. We spend the time down at the union hall passing the time, remembering the good and the bad–our apprenticing, our journeyman days, our active memberships, our overtimes of tears, trying to convince ourselves that this is a mere rehearsal, a run through of a wake not the wake itself.