March 15, 2015 by The Citron Review
by Heather Bourbeau
The photographs told the whole story. Not the smile, pucker, pout, smile, not-so-candid pose most photographs are these days. The hyperawareness of everything documented, not lived, was absent. Here were photos of her sleeping curled onto one side of his bed, sunning herself with the cat in the kitchen, crying almost imperceptibly as she drew a bath, reading presidential biographies, slipping into the little black dress that made her feel not so much sexy as empowered, in her skin. No need for push-ups or surgery to pass, no fear that only this man will love her for her real self.
Crown of Moths
The moths would circle around her head like a cream and grey gossamer crown, reminding the townspeople that she was not fully of this world, that she walked among the living and the ancestors. Instinctively, the women protected her; the men feared and desired her. She seemed unaware of the attention her flowing hair, almond eyes and crown aroused, instead delighting in the play and love offered her, translating the wing-language of her other kin. Until the night she curled into herself, only to emerge, twelve days later, transformed—taller, rounder, with wings of brown and orange—and flew away.
He cut the bay laurel as if he were the one at war, battling the branches, clearing a path never imagined. Gone only 53 days, his brother was returning with one medal and no legs. “Unfair” was an inadequate adjective that no one used, but everyone thought. The pungent leaves reminded him of night walks—brothers guided by the scent, the stars peeking through the cover to light a path toward the valley—and of the sweet smell of rain on trees, dripping slowly onto earth browned by drought. Earth his brother defended. Earth to which they all will return.
We walked out in the thick Tule fog to find the remains. Workers, drones and queen—all dead. Almonds did not stop their bloom to mourn; the pollination window was not long. After that, our farm would be gone too. We were not alone.
He was the most popular man in the Central Valley—with his live bees and wild hair. I hated his leaving before he even arrived. While his bees transferred pollen from anther to stigma, my legs wound round his waist, his words round my heart. Ten thousand deaths and one man stole me from this land.
The Charcoal Maker
The irony was not lost—the conservationist become charcoal maker. He knew more than anyone the value of this wood he cut, collected, and burned down into fuel. The conflict was not meant to last; it was only posturing between weakened men, so they said. Blockades, rubbled homes, impromptu funerals, and the shrinking forest told a less optimistic story. The first night he was sent, he thought only of the heat that would keep his family alive. The second night, he thought of his community. By the eighth, he cried and apologized softly to the trees and his children’s children.
Heather Bourbeau is a Berkeley-based writer. She was a Tupelo Press 30/30 poet, a journalist whose work appeared in The Economist, The Financial Times and Foreign Affairs, and a former Political Affairs Officer with the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia. Her first collection of poetry, Daily Palm Castings, profiles people in overlooked professions.