by Jei Degenhardt

Something happened and the evening turned into a bruise.
The next day the bruise grew a tree. He walked around it
all morning. Whispering, then yelling.
Through the garden window I saw his lips, blue,

and the mist leaving them to break upon the bark.
He was back inside when I came home from work.
The bruise went from yellow to black.
“What happened to your fingertips?”

I asked, and he said nothing, though the tree
answered in the white lines scoring its surface,
almost glowing, in the dusk light.
At the back of the shed was an ancient splitting axe.

He spent an afternoon with it, hacking,
appearing occasionally in the kitchen
to pick out splinters over the sink. The haft was rotten,
broke in the end before the tree would.

So he left, and for a while I was alone in the house,
though each day the tree leant closer to the walls
until the bricks were all that propped it up,
the branches gently fracturing the French doors.

I don’t think he noticed, when he returned.
He was carrying rope. I touched his arm
but he was silent now: no shouting,
no curses under his breath, suddenly strangled.

He lashed the tree to the car, tyres gouging the grass
as if digging for something. Then he fell out of the seat,
began to use his hands. Long after he scraped his palms bloody
on the rope, I saw him curving his fingers into the wound

his axe had made, hoping to wrench the whole thing open.
A fever had set inside him now and he wouldn’t let me dress
his cuts until he was half-asleep in the bed, full of soup
and still wearing his mud-caked boots. Nothing works, he said.

He bought a chainsaw and plunged it into the bark
a few metres above the roots. It spat out gasoline,
puddling at his feet with the sap. I couldn’t hear
it over the tree, its shaking, the violent

rattle of the leaves. Then a long, long groan.
He was lying, broken
entirely beneath it. All I could see
was his face. His skin glistened with sweat,

with something darker. He had
a leaking smile and stared at me,
the unobstructed sky. Where the tree
had split green shoots were sprouting so softly
; I tore out each one.