The Healing Tree


Chapter 26

Tác giả: Joe Tye

What do you write into a poem for a woman who no longer feels like a woman? I wadded up yet another page from my yellow pad and pitched it in the general direction of the wastebasket, missing by a car length. Thus far, I hadn’t scratched out anything worthy of being entered into the pink journal, even as a draft, much less to be presented to Carol Mullins tomorrow afternoon.

I’d fallen into a pattern of writing poems for my patients while sitting in Mark’s favorite easy chair in the den (not only was it the most comfortable spot in the house, I could tell Amanda that I got a workout every time I climbed in and out of it from my wheelchair). Chewing on the end of my pen, I contemplated the picture of snow-capped Mount Iliamna, a photograph Mark had taken from a kayak when we’d vacationed in Alaska. It was beautiful, it was forbidding. Like the challenge, and the privilege, of writing a poem for a woman who had lost her breast, and then lost her hair, in the fight to save her life.

I scribbled a few lines to the effect that if God covered a volcano with snow, it didn’t make it any the less a volcano, that its volcanoness was held in the fiery rumblings deep inside, not in the decorative smoky plume an artist would have us see coming from out the top. But the more I tried to draw the metaphorical bridge between volcanoness and womanness, the more trite and banal my poem became.

After an hour of littering the floor with yellow poet droppings, I finally set aside the pen. What would Maggie have written?  Maggie could always find words to give hope even if there was no hope.  Maggie once told me that, though she regretted not having had more years to live and to write more poems, she was thankful for having had cancer.  If it hadn't been for the disease, she’d said, she never would have given herself permission to become a poet.  She would never have known what to say without first having been in the shoes, or in the wheelchairs, of the people for whom she was writing.

What would Maggie have written? She would have written about how adversity is just part of the journey.  That how we choose to deal with that adversity is what makes us become who we are in the process of our journey.  She would have said that things which break you down can ultimately make you stronger.  That's what Maggie would have told Carol.  This is the part of the journey that requires strength.  So be strong. 

I closed my eyes and let myself drift into the wilderness of sleep. I dreamed I was hiking alone in the mountains. Walking through the pinewood forest, squirrels skittered about at my feet and songbirds celebrated the day in the branches, which sheltered us from the furious winds howling down the mountainside. I wanted to stay forever in this arboreal womb, but something impelled me upward. As I climbed, the trail grew steep and rocky; pine trees gave way to stunted shrubs. I had to crawl on hands and knees into the teeth of the relentless gale barreling down the slope.

As I continued to climb, the wind pelted me with sleet and snow. The force of the gale tore away my clothing. Wretched and freezing, I pulled myself across the ground, hanging on to each rocky handhold with the desperation of a drowning person. Howling like Satan, the wind ripped out my hair by the roots. The rocks tore into my hands and my knees, and still I crawled on, trying to ignore the pain. In one murderous gust, the wind pried open my mouth and yanked out my teeth, and in the next, gouged out my eyes.

Frantic now, I blindly clawed my way onward, hand over hand, having lost my legs to the cleaving of razor sharp stones. My screams for help were sucked out of my lungs before they could even take shape in my mouth. I was at the end of my strength, at the end of the world. I let go my grasp of the last stone anchor and waited for the gale to blow me off the mountain all the way to hell. Instead, a warm and loving hand lifted me from the wreckage of my body. “Welcome home,” said a voice that was neither male nor female, yet somehow both. In that instant I knew that though I’d lost everything in the climb, I’d gained everything in the ascent.

The warmth of that loving hand remained with me in those drowsy moments when you can’t tell whether it’s dawn or evening, whether you are asleep or awake, or even which is your real and natural state. I luxuriated in the fuzzy glow until it had completely evaporated. Then it was time to get back to work. I had an appointment to keep. Maggie had been so right. Perhaps I could not give Carol Mullins hope, or healing, but I could share with her my own hope, my own healing.

Back in my wheelchair, I lit the spice candles on my desk and turned off the overhead light. I said my prayer, then opened the pink journal. After writing several drafts in the journal, I pulled out my calligraphy pen set and some deluxe parchment paper. It took the better part of the evening to get it right, but I finally got it right.

Above the Tree Line

Above the tree line there are no green woods

to shelter you against howling winds and flying snow.

Footing is treacherous, handholds tenuous.

It is stark, it is beautiful, it is

unforgiving of the careless traveler.

Above the tree line yesterday and tomorrow fade into forever

and molehills of the valley disappear in the distance.

Above the tree line no one cares if you are beautiful –

Only that you are strong.

Above the tree line the air is cold and rare.

The climb will challenge your faith, it will test your courage.

If you pass that test you will see the world

as through the eyes of God.

Don’t be afraid to travel above the tree line

where the earth makes love to the sky.

I’d made a sufficient number of circuits from coma to consciousness, from anesthesia to awareness, to know that there is a huge gray area in between the waking and sleeping worlds. This not-yes and not-no space betwixt these separate realities is the seedbed for miracles; it’s where the impossible dream of today takes root, and becomes hope for the miraculous new world of tomorrow.

I sealed this new poem into an envelope and prayed that as Carol Mullins traveled above the tree line, she would discover the meaning in her difficult journey, and that from that frigid bare peak she would, indeed, see the world as through the eyes of God.

The Great Divide

Clocks run faster on the distant side

of the Great Divide;

and you never know when the sun might decide

to set itself down without fair warning.

On the distant side of the Great Divide

killing time is a capital crime.

Space contracts on the distant side

of the Great Divide;

there’s less room for error so you’d better

get it right the first time.

On the distant side of the Great Divide

the wrong turn can descend to a precipitous dead end.

The air is clear on the distant side

of the Great Divide;

You begin to see the trail that leads to the place

you are meant to be. Walk fast.

The distant side of the Great Divide might be

closer than you think.