Lignum

by Julian Drury


I was stung by a tree yesterday. It sounds bizarre. Stung by a tree? It doesn’t make any sense when I say it in my mind, let alone out loud. It was a seemingly casual event, rather sudden, and I overlooked it at the time.

The weather was hot, as it had been all summer long. Late June heading into July seems to be one of the worst times of the summer. The heat swells to unmeasurable degrees, matching with stagnant humidity.

It happened as I was passing through a patch of rough sidewalk, sandwiched between two abandoned houses. The sidewalk under my feet was covered in dead leaves, foliage, and human garbage bags. I had decided to cut down this ugly side street to my apartment, to get out of the sweltering heat as quickly as I could. All I could practically think about was getting inside, to my AC unit.

Then, that was when it happened. This tree, of about my stature, one that stood alone, just reached out and stung me. I didn’t know a tree could do that. Is there a poem to be made about the tree stinging? Earth biting back at me? Who knows?

The tree stung me all right, on the underside of my right arm. Just like that. I felt the quaint sting instantly. It wasn’t the kind of sting, like a bee’s, where I needed to jump or scream in pain. Rather it was a subtle sting; its intensity seemed to build over the course of time after contact.

What a strange tree. Bizarre. I had never seen such a tree before, anywhere. The tree was probably about seven feet tall, give or take a few inches. It was not bulky. It also had the strangest trunk and bark I had ever seen: nearly black, greyish-black, like burnt ash. It was a tree I had never seemed to notice before, though I often made a habit of avoiding the ugly side street where it resides.

Extended from its branches were a series of grey vines, which seem to be twisted around each other, like string cheese or some nightmarish nylon ropes twisted together. I was probably stung by one of the vines hanging from the branches. Such special branches they were.

At first, I ignored the sensation, feeling it was a brief scrape to soon disappear. Yet, over the passing minutes, the sting slowly began to take form. It built up gradually, with a very strange sensation. It was as if the sting were sinking, digging deep into my skin and inner flesh of my arm.

The sting, at first build-up, was not terribly painful. But when I returned home to my apartment and decided to wash my arm with tap water, the sting intensified. Within three hours, an entire patch of skin on the underside of my right arm had turned red. It didn’t itch; it just stung constantly. Slight bumps seemed to be forming, like leftover traces of ant bites. The patch of skin was turning red and also seemed to be slowly growing numb, possibly with a pulse. This process occurred very gradually. Perhaps too gradually.

The tree is a rather complex symbol, an ideal of life, beauty, eternity, perhaps even memory and sadness. In college, in a poetry reading, the concept of the tree as a life giver fell under scrutiny. The poem was titled Lignum Vitae, by Archie Lindo. It centered on the object of a violet-covered tree as an object of sadness, perhaps due to mourning over the passing of a loved one.

The tree, rather than the eternal life-giver, was a monument for drenching misery while still bearing its fruits from the loss of another life. This was, at least what we discussed in class. That was a few years ago, and really couldn’t believe I remembered it all that well. Something about the poem maybe? Something about the poem indeed;

I saw a Lignum Vitae tree
One evening in October.
And every branch upon that tree
With violets covered over.
The ground was blossom-carpeted
For weary eyes to sleep on.
And if these eyes had tears to shed
What sweeter place to weep on?

Perhaps all of this matters now due to the fact that I have black foliage and grey vines growing out of my right arm. Yes, growing from my arm like plants in soil. I’m a plant now. Perhaps I always was and have just realized it. What is worse at this point? The past night, though an attempt at sleep and recovery, has brought me tears. My weeping harvest. I am ripe. No ground under a tree is covered in blossoms while the tree still stands.


Copyright © 2014 by Julian Drury

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