"She hid it well," they say, gathered around the body. Some standingin the gallery think of their god, big as an ox, and are thankful
for once not to be the chosen one. Her stomach opened to revealthe tree growing inside her, seeming to take root near the navel,
branching out between the ribs. Thick bark falling away underthe scalpel. A man worries a pair of bats from her throat. Wings
raw from rubbing against the wood, panicky. Flesh housesmilk-white bulbs, new life, pale like her throat, a nice one.
A throat to be stroked nightly by some woodsman. And the batsare the most vibrant black the man has ever seen. Their wings
seem to be living separately from their bodies, trying to detach.And so he pictures the woman in the same light, tree its own
creature, not hers, not her, as he takes a bone saw to a branch,or, with the smaller ones, snaps them off with his hands.
One must, at times, learn to ignore the body. In a dreamthe man was once patron saint of ships. Not only did he build
the most seaworthy ships of his small town, but he blessedall the vessels in the shipyard. Walking from wood hull to wood
hull, he would press his hands against them, speak to them with hispalms. And they would speak back. The man would carry their [End Page 308]
stories with him from sleep, so that, in the morning, his hands werestill full with them, seemed to anchor him to the mattress, hands
heavy with whale bones and kelp nests. With crates of rottingfruit, the smell of too many men together, skin sloughing off
like flakes of sel de mer. And the man had forgotten all this, untilhis hands were around the trunk, growing like his own thigh,
and he could see each layer of the cut-into wood, which lookednot unlike each layer of the thick skin of the belly, the woman
not a woman, but a tree now. The tree, with his hands around it,sang into him a high-pitched song, song of a siren, a woman's
voice asking to be returned to the sea. Any sea. And as hewashed his hands after, thorough as always, as he walked
home in the rain to his wife. As he drank the glass of watershe had poured him from a clay pitcher, he could feel that voice
in his throat, and that night he woke—suddenly, salt watercovering his entire body—to that other woman's song. [End Page 309]
Corey Van Landingham recently completed her MFA at Purdue University, where she was a poetry editor for Sycamore Review. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in AGNI, Best New Poets 2012, and Hayden's Ferry Review. In January, she won the 2013 OSU Press/The Journal Award in Poetry for Antidote. She lives in Houston, Texas.