Beneath The Old Oak
The tree no longer speaks. It creaks, but it does not speak. It sways, but it does not say. There was a time, years back, when Justin and The Old Oak, they would chatter and natter all day. From its limbs, ancient tree hymns would brim. Together, Justin and The Old Oak would sing.
But now, it is silent. And so is Justin.
What happened was this: Justin’s mother died. It was a slow, painful demise. Cancer. Eating away, wasting her thin each day. Until she was a wisp. Then a husk. Then a ghost. Justin’s father turned to alcohol for solace. Justin turned to leaving school, finding a job, peeling his father out of the pub at closing, weighing him across shoulders, listening to him splutter a lament for his wife – Justin’s mother – as together, father and son staggered home.
For Justin, youth became a truth forgotten. A thing that you know was certain, was real, but have to discard to make room for all the hurting: new, more adult things to feel. And how he hurt. Work dulled the cold diamond he’d grown inside his chest. Caring for his father’s drunkenness distracted Justin from his loss: of his mother; of The Old Oak’s wisdom and chatter.
The comfort high places brought – with that thrill of vertigo, of balancing, of how wind caught you to stagger, on a branch, perilous before the drop – that was gone also. Justin felt vertigo from just waking up: it’s so easy to fall when your world is falling apart.
One morning, Justin’s father did not wake for breakfast. There was no groan, no moan, no stiff upper lip and blush of embarrassment at how drunk he’d been the night before. To Justin, the house felt different yet… oddly familiar. Stiller. The same feeling that had descended through the bricks the day Justin’s mother died.
Tears bit the back of Justin’s lids. He refused to cry. Not yet. Not until he’d checked.
The doctor explained the mechanics of heart failure, as if a heart can break. Justin thought that, under the pressure of grief, of loss, they took on metamorphosis, became diamond… or weakened flesh, like his fathers. Justin’s hardened harder, again.
He buried his father beside his mother beneath The Old Oak. Neither the tree nor Justin spoke. They stood, a solemn bond of silence dancing the distance between them. Another body for the earth.
And now, when Justin visits his parents, daily, the young man does not speak. Nor does he weep. He will sometimes sit and read the leaves of The Old Oak, hoping for some augury, some divination that everything will be ok. The Old Oak wishes he could give such comfort. But more so, it wishes it could lean down, wrap branch around boy who has become young stoic man, and hug him.
Scott-Patrick Mitchell (SPM) is an award-winning poet and writer. SPM grew up in oak tree England, but now lives and writes on Whadjuk Noongar Land in Perth, Australia. Mitchell’s poetry appears in Island, Cordite, Westerly and Rabbit. Visit http://www.instagram.com/spmpoet for daily poetic seeds of inspiration.