The Friction of Leaves

I imagine my aunt cradled the wedge

of wood like an unborn infant,

her palms weighing the potential.

Her fingers, slivered by Braille,

skimmed the timber’s lineage

before rewriting it in a pile

of shavings spun into Fibonacci spirals:


a face born from a branch. Twenty years later,

the dust twisting from my truck’s tires

clouded his dead eye as I left. The wind

whistled through stiff lips, stirring his beard.


They say soft wood carves best,

but I recognized the grain

in his petrified face, the black walnut

growing in the x-ray slide of his skull,

the finality of our conversation

in the friction of leaves.


I walked to my father’s house in the country

at midnight from a bar on the periphery of town.

A distant dog’s bark echoed from the slate ceiling,

and a light, just out of reach, backed away matching my pace.

It shined like the flash from a silver dollar

in Sam’s trembling hand on Christmas morning when I was a kid.

I’m sure he missed the shake with his good eye:

the one not buried in gauze but too weak to see

without glasses dark enough to watch metal melt.


In the summer, he sat on the back porch with my father

and sipped steel cans of Stroh’s.

The maple tree in the yard massaged his face

with its shadows when it shifted its weight.


I can’t remember anything

he ever said, but when he closed his eye and laughed,

I heard dead leaves rattle in his throat

and saw a face stretched by the stress of calendar pages piled up.

I’m sure he heard a young man’s chuckle, the growl of tires in gravel,

the radiator’s dying breath. His vision, tunneled by the hole

in his best friend’s head, focused on a smooth face

reflected in the wrinkled satin of a creek outside Chattanooga,

where he ran from cops and swam in corn whiskey.


Fifty years later, his rickety legs stabbed knee-deep in the snow.

Two blocks from home,

he collapsed and swore he felt warm air blast

through his friend’s car window. He heard the engine rev,

but it was really a rotted station wagon

spraying snow from spinning tires, trying to gain traction.

The driver saw Sam and wondered

who would leave a mannequin in a shabby coat

half buried in a snow drift. On the road


to my father’s house, a wind chime murmured from a porch

somewhere in the dark. The distant light

felt like an unevenly worn mattress.


Echoes like Steel

Whitebarks shiver in a zephyr’s sigh. The Golden

Retriever’s teeth crunch peanuts from my palm,

muffling stillness on a jagged peak, surrounded

by snow that shrunk ten foot pines to shrubs

clawing their way through crusted powder.

Without snowshoes, drifts are snares. Below,

the cold sky reflects in Lake Tahoe,

a mirror one thousand feet deep, framed by senile mountains.


The sun wanes behind the western range. Beyond Mount Pluto,

I picture the pass near Truckee where the snow

seized ninety emigrants from Springfield, Illinois.

The cattle went first, even bones and hides;

then dogs, rats, shoes. One night as a kid,

sitting alone at the dinner table, I ate

tears and glared at peas piled on my plate.

Dad guarded the door, his arms like thick ropes

knotted across his chest. He said, you can eat anything

if you’re hungry enough.


A blackbird perched on an embalmed branch

eyes the burden of the past loaded in my pack.

When he speaks, his hollow voice echoes like steel.



by Trevor Nelson


Trevor Nelson studies English at Northern Illinois University and writes from Rockford, Illinois. His poetry and prose have appeared in 5×5, Awosting Alchemy, and Voices.

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