by: Rena J. Mosteirin
Dear Adam Zagajewski,
They’re cutting down my trees. My beautiful trees, someone always wants to take them. First it was the man who wanted them for firewood, he didn’t even ask, just came to the door to tell me not to mind the noise from his saw. Yeah, right. Then the town tree-cutters came for the trees by the power lines. We’ve been having more tornados than usual and now the trees seem like criminals. Three hundred trees down in the last storm and the town starts sending people out to cut down more. Imagine that. So I called out my neighbor to back me up, she came outside and told them to be gentle with the mighty conifer to the west of my driveway; and the roost tree, which is endangered in this state and the tree that bats most need; and not to touch the Kentucky coffee plants growing in the ravine. Then she went back to her house but I wouldn’t leave my driveway, scowling at them all and making a point of asking every few minutes just how much longer they’d be at it. When I’d first heard the tree noise I was re-reading your poems, specifically “To Go To Lvov” and I think it’s significant that this is the part I was reading when the saws started to screech:
Scissors, penknives, and razor blades scratched,
cut, and shortened the voluptuous dresses
of prelates, of squares and houses, and trees
As my trees were cut away from the power lines, saws into branches, lines from your poems floated intact through my thoughts, nourishing my resolve not to let go of anything important—at least, not without a fight—and your poems likening trees to cathedrals lent me the strength to keep standing there in my driveway, not creeping back inside the house, intimidated and small. Thank you.
Furthermore, Mr. Zagajewski, I feel I have been to your Lvov. Thank you for writing it, for writing everything you’ve written, each poem a door, and every door leads to a certain type of beauty that I might not otherwise have been allowed access to. Reading your work helps me to understand the things that exiles can never say to their children. During the Bay of Pigs invasion, my father and his family fled Cuba. The Cuba of my father’s childhood no longer exists in any real way; the closest thing I have to it is your Lvov. I’ll always imagine a second life for myself, the life I would have had if my father stayed. Nothing of that life exists for me in any real way outside of a sort of inherited nostalgia, and of course, poetry.
I wrote a poem on an airplane after I heard you read at the University of Chicago a few years ago and you spoke about writing poems on trains. The airplane poem I wrote after that was inspired by your poem “How Clowns Go” and I hope you don’t mind my taking liberties with and co-opting some of your sentiments here:
Piglet squeaks come from the wheels
like they’re saying good-bye New York City. Goodbye
mice in my brother’s apartment. I imagine him standing at the station
waiting for the subway. Imagine him standing on the roof
of the house in Queens watching planes/ watching my plane skate away
from the country of his grief.
There he is, standing at the station letting all the trains pass/ opening and closing
their doors for everyone but not for him. He just stands there/ hands folded,
he hasn’t got any bags/ or appointments. He’s not on the platform.
He’s on the roof
and there are two ways to get down:
the hundred year old ladder or the thousand year old jump.
If he goes down the ladder, he will have an old man’s superstitions.
He will be afraid
of airplanes and the words:
rudders, flaps, spoilers, landing gear. He will think I am dying
in every prop plane that passes overhead. What’s left is fear.
Leftover television news paranoia/ like a cold meatloaf stinking up the refrigerator.
What’s left is fear. He thinks today might be the day
he lights a cigarette and the whole house explodes.
This is how brothers go.
The distance from childhood is the distance between our cities
and the great indifference of age
disguises his fire
until the flames from the house reach up and catch my plane
then we disintegrate together,
and become piglets again
as the city rubs grit on our milk teeth.
-Rena J. Mosteirin
Rena J. Mosteirin is a Cuban-American author of fiction and poetry. Her poetic novella “Nick Trail’s Thumb” was selected by Lydia Davis and published by Kore Press.