Being a willow

Remembered long-ago
nights of childhood terror:
overpowered, overcome,
choiceless—knowing his
anger with me and
only me. My smallness
his power over me to
humiliate and belittle.
How many nights afraid
of his hands…the belt?
How many more spent
breathless and beaten-down—
followed to my room by
words of shame, walking
head-down in acceptance
of the shouting? It’s
all my fault. Everything is
my fault. Drooped and
burdened…

I was a willow tree.

Grown up among the
oaks and walnuts, my
branches were unequal.
I found a falling pine who
promised to hold me up and
who made me think I could
be big and strong. But
she grew over me. Her
branches fell. She scratched
and stuck and, cracking,
collapsed on me,
bending me to the ground
before she rolled away and
left me scarred and torn.
Her words, the same as his:
“It’s all your fault. Everything
is your fault.”

Alone,
in the quiet after…

No more shouting, no
more leaning and blaming.
There was
friendship and
commonness
like a cold stream
running through the
roots. There was
shady solitude and
peace like hot
sunshine on breezy
greening leaves
and I learned to
pay attention
to the birds and
the squirrels
and to give them
shelter.
I learned from them to
find joy in being a
willow just
as they found
joy in being
birds and
squirrels.

I found
another willow.
She droops like me and
sometimes we are
blown by the wind and
sometimes we lean
a little much and
sometimes our
scars are still
a little fresh and
reopened.

But
we are rooted
close together.

We drink water.
We feel sunshine.
We breathe air.
We find happiness
in the work of our hands,
and in the passing of
time. We look to
our own rings
and our own love.
And we have learned
to make for each other
a quiet place in this
world—to find it
and to listen to it
and to let it
keep us.

We have learned
to stand a little taller,
to droop a
little heavier,
and to find peace in
being a willow.

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