not a tree, i am a stake
planted into melancholy earth.
lacking roots and branches,
i might have been a plank
in the floors of an old house
scuffed by the bare feet of children
and oiled periodically, covered in winter
by a carpet from the east.
i might have been a dusty skid on a scaffold
erected to clean a monument,
or refurbish a ruined synagogue
whose god still roams the camps.
i might have been a strake, pushing the seas
for men heartier than i am,
a length of me cut away and hollowed as a flute
to blow songs to a future lover.
none of these fates have been mine.
those made rigid in their own sadness,
they have no fate at all,
a fate worse than fate.
the desolate do not learn
the hard truths of destiny,
and those too vain to follow joy
never split the earth’s indifference.

(poem / atlanta 2020) (photograph / philadelphia 2019)