Is it agony that has bleached them to such beauty? Their stand is at the edge of our property—white spires like fingers, through which the deer emerge with all the tentative grace of memory. Your father loved these trees. When you try to imagine his childhood, it is all old footage, in a similar scheme: black and white. But he died, and all you know is that they reminded him of home. As they remind you he is gone to a country as unimaginable as his life before you were born, before the woman who would be your mother lived as she does now—lost, wandering at the edge of her life’s whitened gates. After a storm, one birch fell in the field, an ivory buttress collapsed across the pasture. Up close there is pink skin beneath the paper, green lichen ascending in settlements of scales. In the dark yard it beckons you back to snow, the static of the past—your father, a boy, speaking in a tongue you never knew, calling down from the branches. Or the letter you wrote to a mother you weren’t allowed to miss—black ink scrawled across the white pulp of the page: I am very lonely without you.
"Russian Birch", from Why Speak? by Nathaniel Bellows. Copyright © 2007 by Nathaniel Bellows. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.