The Morning the Cottonwood Fell

by | Mar 7, 2019 | Creative Nonfiction

The Morning the Cottonwood FellThe earth was bulging. Heaving. Fit to bust. You seek better language to connect to the loss. The earth was bulging, had been bulging beneath the ancient tree for months. You watched the cottonwood lean more and more eastward as you passed it on your walk to work, bark shedding like coastal shelf, roots unburied, unburrowed, angle of trunk changing almost daily, so it seemed. You knew this moment would one day come but you foolishly prayed against it, this earth bulging. This morning you walked to work, turned the corner, saw the tree down, and something in your chest bulged—or did it heave? What is this leaving within? Did it swell? Was the earth truly heaving, too? Or are you only trying to connect to the loss, all of it?

Last night you saw the lightning tremble across a cloudy sky. No, it was more like a shuddering, more like quivering flickers. Last night you stood on a sidewalk embracing your trembling four-year-old son, lost somewhere in his sadness. Two of his cousins were packing their bags and moving across the country in a few days. Two of his cousins, those secret siblings, they are moving, in his young mind, out of his life forever. And you held him close as he whimpered, you felt that charged energy ripple beneath his ribcage and then somehow flash across the sky. You only wanted to connect, so you asked if he could speak his sadness somehow, in the hope that you could help. But when he spoke, he said something so lonely and lost that you promised yourself to never repeat it. You promised to not attach too much to the words, but only to hold him closer, let his quivering rest against you.

And today the earth is bulging. Another mighty shoot of green, another tale a hundred years old told in rings suddenly gone silent, gone from the listening soil. You want to save something—perhaps the trunk to build a boat, perhaps some smaller part of it as a memento. But there is no saving, no fixing. You feel the loss. You seek, fail, feel the heaving, fall into silence yourself.

Photo used under CC.

About The Author

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson lives in Kansas City, Missouri. His work has appeared in Crazyhorse, New Letters, Guernica Daily, Saint Katherine Review, Image’s Good Letters blog, The Kansas City Star, and elsewhere. He is a 2018 recipient of a NEA fellowship for residency at the Vermont Studio Center. Andrew is the author of the essay collection On Earth As It Is.