by Meg Kearney
Kearney. An Unkindness of Ravens. Bonsai
You carry the tree home to me like a baby from a house about to burn. It was the potential for fire that drew me to you, though now, as you hand over this gift I've longed for, I worry if I can share my life with something else so needy. I study the instruction book: direct light, lots of water, human breath, and, every day, hands placed on the moss at the base of the trunk. Touch. Talk. I can do this. I am determined this tree will live, though when I discover aphids, tufts of cotton caught in the leaves like tiny laundry blown by a storm, I panic, pick up the phone — I am not afraid to say I need help. The woman at the nursery calms me: This happens, she says. Don't worry so much. I try — yet spraying insecticide, I think if junipers had eyes, this one would be crying like a child in the tub. I'm told I did the same as a baby — screamed as my mother scrubbed my face raw, baffled by the indelible dirt on my cheeks until my sister, to my rescue, realized they were freckles. My mother never had a child with freckles until I came along, as I never had a bonsai with brown spot — another phone call and soon I'm mixing vitamins, spraying for lush color, praying for leaves that spring back when squeezed between forefinger and thumb. When I must go away, I call long-distance — Is it drinking enough, getting lots of sun? Don't leave it in the sink unattended; it likes to be read to. I need you to say everything is going to be all right, say the tree is fine. Your voice across the wire is a rain I've needed for years; I tilt back my head, softening into a girl only you have recognized. The tree's body contains what I can't yet explain. When I am home, you pick me up, carry me to the bedroom. Your skin smells faintly of juniper. We burst in a heat so green it singes my eyelashes.