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A Tree and a Boat

A Tree and a Boat

Tony Birch

In the time before the bay all boats were trees. They stood end on end, settling into earth and touching air. The boats grew in the mountains and lined river valleys. In the time before the bay the feet of boats left the earth and lay and rested on stone and waited to be called to the water. They were called and drifted from rivers born in the mountains. They navigated a web of waterways working to the sea and met where the mouth of the ancient river announced its arrival to the ocean. When the time came for new life the boats provided the hollows for newborn and the cribs for nests. And when it was time for death they cocooned the spirit and journeyed the spirit home. When the ghosts first came they arrived in boats that were once also trees that had always been boats, listening to be called and shaped. When men and women came in iron chains, cutting skin and bone, with children dying in the arms of mothers, they came in boats groaning with sadness and anger. And when the boats sent themselves to the bottom of the sea, they took the ghosts, the men and women and babies with them. They are there, ready for us, resting in coffins that are also trees. Today, when the desperate come to us for sanctuary, they do not come in boats made of iron and machine. They come in boats of wood collapsing under the weight of life. The boats are speaking and they have questions for us. They want to know – are we truly human? Or, something less than we claim to be? Are we willing to lift the desperate from water and carry them to safety? Or will we send them away? The boats are here to remind us that they were here before us. And when we are gone they will stand end on end, speaking truth with the earth.

From Broken Teeth, Cordite Books, 2017

Post cover image: Loggers Standing at the Base of a Large Tree, Robert O’Brien, 1900. Source: State Library of Victoria