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  • At the Log Decomposition Site in the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest, a Visitation, and: It Wasn't the Laundry
  • Derek Sheffield (bio)

I might break, I might disappear.

—Peter Sears (1937–2017)

Below thick moss and fungi and the green leavesand white flowers of wood sorrel, where foldsof phloem hold termites and ants busily gnawingthrough rings of ancient light and rain, this rotis more alive, says the science, than the treefor four centuries it was. Beneath beetle galleriesvermiculately leading like lines on a mapto who knows where, all kinds of mites, bacteria,Protozoa, and nematodes whip, wriggle, and crawleven as my old pal's bark of a laugh comes back:a recollection, perhaps, of Seattle when he appearedout of a van with Tobias Wolff just as I was passing."Hey, everyone, it's Peter Sears!" I said to my friendsand ran up as he stood in his long, black coat,not saying a word, his smile under the streetlightsdeepening as Wolff and his moustache politely waitedwhile I gave Peter a pen to sign my arm, my friendswondering what in the world a "Peter Sears" was.He was the one always breaking others upwith deadpan cracks in that New York accent,Yale poet who came west, Hugo studentand Stafford friend, writer in the schools, low resprof, Oregon's laureate and Rivers's father."He's so morose you get depressed just hearinghis name," he said once about a poet we both liked.Perhaps it's the rust-red hue of his cheeks [End Page 92] in the spill of woody bits. Or something in the long shagsof moss draping every down-curved limb. He'd love to beright now a green-furred Sasquatch tiptoeingamong the boles of these firs alive since the firstHamlet's first soliloquy. He'd love to shout"Gotcha!" as he grabbed me from behind. He'd bein touch, he said in an e-mail, as soon as the doctorscleared him. Then a sharp ache at the news on a website.When this tree toppled, the science continues, its deathwent through the soil's mycorrhizae linking the livingand the dead by threads as fine as the hairs appearingthose last years along Peter's ears, and those rootletskept rooting after. That e-mail buried in my in-box.Two lines and his name in lit pixels on my screen.What if I click Reply? That's what he would do,even out of place and time, here in the understory'slowering light where gnats rescribble their whirlafter each breath I send. Hey, everyone … [End Page 93]

It Wasn't the Laundry

The father could not have knownthe woman he'd hired to be with his childrenwhile he followed his work to far citieswould bring such pain. It wasn't the laundry,floors, or sack lunches, not the dropping offor picking up that did it. It came after dinnerwhen she called them to a game, and kept callinguntil even the boy closed the latest in a seriesof books where he'd been since his motherhad left, and unlocked his doorand walked downstairs to get it over with.

With that woman and his two sisters, he sat aroundthe little-used dining room table to connect fourcolored disks or link cool tiles with clicks acrossthe polished wood or lay down a card:"UNO!" The pain they learned began in queriesabout their day and help with fractions, in howto stitch a rip and fry potatoes. It grew in flowersfrom her garden, the blue wheels of bachelor's buttonsand purple-hearted sweet William. (Do we livein your days, Mother? Where this time, Father?) Their facesover years around that table starting to smile,to fly into laughter. Now that woman, neither

mother nor father, lies in a distant bed. Different peopleon different shifts lift spoons to her mouth,change her sheets. There is no more calling or hearingand no games but the one...


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