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Laurie Lambeth

Gall Harvest

It was a year before the hurricane took the tree, the season when red oak apple galls fall—summer, late spring. They rolled everywhere. I gathered them, put them in a jar next to the dog’s unused tramadol, eye drop vials, the Chinese herbs Blood Palace, astrylagus and ligustrum. We would have done anything to save her. Already had, but saving begets trust in saving. Red mottled with white tracks when they fall, oak galls feel hard as wood, light in hand. Leaves deformed by larval inhabitants. They resembled her cancer when it clung to her exterior: red, veiny solid nodules rushing up from the toes. Cancer in bloom. Tangible. It wasn’t that the oak galls helped me find some sort of logic: life in death, wasp in balled leaf, cancer a kind of life. I am not so brave or purposeful. More uniform in shape than the tumors but sharing their color, they served as a means to keep any part of her, if only a shade of what took her. Their tree’s now stumped flat. It hugged the house when it fell.

To pen the sacred
scribes dipped quills in oak gall ink,
wanting permanence.

Galls dry in my jar.
No ink could move my hand to
leach out their dark hearts.

Upon Reading the Radiologist’s Report

The night sky here bruised to a grey-ochre dome
long ago, no stars, or maybe three. Back home
in the hills my head spun back, neck creaked
when I gazed upward, and the night sky milked
its stars out in clusters, whole galaxies almost,
drenching the sky’s dark sea to glow, its coast
so close to the oaks, my face. I’ve covered this
before, I know, somewhere in the mind I miss,
the one that could blast out the difference
between “recall” and “impeach,” without reference.
The mind that didn’t classify by first letter,
but knew who was who, what happened when. Better,
of course, was the prognosis then. Of course.
This illness courses through my flesh by force,
but quiet and slow. It lights the brain. They found
lesions too numerous and confluent to count:
meteor clusters behind my eyes, nine stars
twinkling the neck, bright periventricular
fluorescents, so bright. I was once called bright.
May still be. In the spine and brain’s night
stars blaze all day. Enough light to search by.
If I could unzip my skull, release stars to the sky,
it wouldn’t be home in here. I get by all right.

Why I Kept the Lilies

Because my thumb and forefinger slid and plucked
each red anther from its stamen and were briefly stained.

Because that drop of sap clings to the bare pistil’s end,
suspended, midair. It defies and enacts loss equally.

When asked to release the last bloom, brownly tinged,
bursting pillow sealed at petal tips, I refused.

Because its decay was its flowering.
The white yellows in striations before the petals drop,

thinned near to lenses. Watch them swirl
in their static descent. How they curl, cling

in hollow corolla, to dried leaves that hang them.
Because those hairs rising from the base of each petal

remind me of wolf hair, maybe egret feathers,
then startle upon touch: tough, unyielding fins.

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