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  • My Wilderness
  • Maxine Scates (bio)

I tried to grow what others grew,eggplants and zinnias, tomatoes, dahlias, even corn,but there were too many trees, the darknessbeneath them growing mushrooms, fawn lilies,and trillium as the years I longed for sun passedand I learned to love the trees. This winter the daythe ice storm came branches cracked and fell all morningtaking others with them, and in the afternoona maple and a cherry fell across the roof. At dusk,when it was over, the owls, two and three and maybe four,more than I’d ever heard, echoed the day’s losses.But because I live among the trees, my worstdream is of the bulldozers which will come somedayafter this hillside has been logged. They’ll comethe way they did to the old cherry orchardwhere every spring someone raked the eartharound the still leafless trees, the tine lines visiblefrom the road, and then one day I’d round the cornerand come upon them, their endless clouds of blossom.It takes so much work to turn an orchardinto a bare field ready for a subdivision, trunks split,stumps chained, wrenched, and dragged away, all of it worsethan any storm

because, branches gathered for kindling,trees cut and chopped, spring does recover whata month ago seemed broken, the big leaf maplesfilling in the gaps. If I have to leave here,I’ll never leave in spring. I won’t leave the wisteriadangling outside my window, the globes of rhododendronsout under the firs suspended like red lanternsin the rain. It takes a long time to learnhow to live anywhere. The irises last a season or twothen dwindle. The daylilies lasted twenty yearsbefore their roots gave way to rot,but the wisteria, the rhododendrons, the maples, [End Page 72] firs, and wild cherries reseed themselves, eventhe difficult oak keeps growing. And the roses,if I could say what a life is I’d say roses, how they taughtme early of desire in the way a man bent laying pipeon a Sunday to make a rose garden for his wifebecause he couldn’t love her any other way,and when the marriage fell to ruin it was the rosesthat survived, each bud unfurling through dogand drought. I’d tell how I planted the Abraham Lincolnfor my mother because it was her favoritethough as it turned out I planted it too close to the pathand so she brushed against it every morningas it stood wet with dew. And when she fell and hadto leave her home forever, I cut her deep red rosesand brought them to her in her hospital bed,and then she did not cry,

but those were hybrids, vulnerable to bug and mildew,my roses are old roses. They love the shade. They sprawlover trellises that barely bear their weight. They twineamong the trees blossoming in clusters, tinyand uncuttable, bright beacons in the twilight worldunder a sky I cannot see for green. They smellof musk and when I try to train them they won’t mind,fierce with thorns they snag my arms, draw blood.And yet I scrape the moss off the flat blue stonesthat lead to them, scrub the bricks as if I were scrubbingthe steps of a church or shrine so I can standbeneath them when they bloom. If I leave here,it will be because I cannot tend what I barely tend now.If I leave, I’ll leave in autumn, the rose canes dead,leaves turning yellow. I’ll leave the way my mother did,never looking back. [End Page 73]

Maxine Scates

Maxine Scates is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Undone (New Issues, 2011). She is co-editor, with David Trinidad, of Holding Our Own: The Selected Poems of Ann Stanford (Copper Canyon, 2001). Her work has received the Starrett Prize, the Oregon Book Award for Poetry, and two Pushcart Prizes. She lives in Eugene, Oregon.



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