by Mara Buck
(excerpted from Ginkgo For Remembrance: A Fable Of the City - from the viewpoint of a female Ginkgo)
One September there was suddenly more smoke and darkness than I had ever before imagined. In my long life I have overcome and witnessed all manner of things, but this was different, far different. I could feel the ground trembling and groaning and I could tell it was a bad time, an evil time. The air was choked with strange and foreign pieces that had come from the huge shiny buildings where the humans were, only there were no longer humans there because the buildings were all gone and the humans were underneath and the others were digging them out. I could feel the digging machines and I could feel the sadness, the fear, the agony of death and I tried as hard as I could to clean that air, but it was far beyond me. The sun never shone through all that smoke and haze and the fires kept burning. I was helpless. I could do nothing but lend my trunk to weary human backs and offer what beauty I could in my smoke-blackened leaves. I am strong. I did not choke on the smoke. I would not allow myself. The humans needed me too much.
The sirens and the lights went on and on for endless days and nights, but day and night seemed the same for the light of the day was blotted by the smoke and the city dark of night was ablaze with the flames. Even the English plane tree wanted so desperately to help, but we were all stunned and mirrored the shell-shocked despair of the humans. We took as much of the foul air into ourselves as we could and the small evergreens and ornamentals did the same, but it was overwhelming and some of us did later die from our efforts. The humans and their machines multiplied and the ground vibrated for months with their comings and goings. When I was younger, I had heard stories of the great Triangle Fire and I myself had witnessed human cruelty beneath my very branches, but this was massive, so massive.
They tacked signs to my trunk, and the nails were as nothing to me. I welcomed the brief bursts of pain because I could see from the other signs nailed onto the trunks of my friends that these were photos of humans, lost beloved humans with names like father, mother, sister, brother, son and daughter and many other names too and I heard the crying of the humans as they put up the signs and I shared their grief. The tack holes in my bark made sap tears on the signs.
Slowly, the winds blew away the smoke as the fires ceased and slowly I felt the sun again. By now it was October and my leaves were turning into golden fans and my berries were richly ripening, but the humans still were too grief-stricken to notice my beauty and they flattened my berries underfoot until they became blood. It was a time of mourning and as we all dropped our autumn leaves, we cried as well for the horror we had seen.
One night beacons of light rose in the sky to the south and formed the outline of the buildings that were no more and we all wept and marveled at the beauty of the ephemeral memorial. I feared the city would never again laugh, but it has been years and there is new life and laughter and new buildings are arising. I still feel the sadness, especially in September. I believe it will always be there. Perhaps if the humans remember, they will all find wisdom. And peace.
There is a human who watches me from his window. He leans outside in summer, resting on a floral pillow. In cold weather the window is closed, but he watches me then as well. He is an older man, my friend in the window. I wonder if he has problems with memory. I reach out my branches to him, to help his memory with my own vast storehouse. But I realize perhaps he chooses not to remember certain things, because, although I cannot swear to it, I believe he was one of those who rushed by when the great buildings fell, but when humans are running and covered with soot, they all look similar to me. Still this one was probably one of those who was there. He seems somehow sad. I try to be beautiful for him and to give him oxygen, for he has some apparatus in his nose, and when the sun is right I see a silvery tank gleam beside him. I know that he wishes me well. I wish him the same. I know there may come a time when he ceases to watch me. I hope it is not soon.
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Mara Buck writes, paints, and rants in a self-constructed hideaway in the friendly Maine woods with enough food and medications to last the duration. She studied in New York, worked there for years, and loves it passionately. She grieves for her city. Winner of The Raven Prize for non-fiction, The Scottish Arts Club Short Story Prize, two Moon Prizes for women’s writing. Other recent first places include the F. Scott Fitzgerald Poetry Prize, The Binnacle International Prize. Awarded/short-listed by the Faulkner/Wisdom Society, Hackney Awards, Balticon, Confluence, and others, with work in numerous literary magazines and print anthologies. https://www.facebook.com/mara.buck.9 https://twitter.com/mara_buck