Imperceptibly, the white pine has grown so tall no one can see what’s happening up there. Dirt has mounded at its base, the underside asserting itself: a bulge of the invisible. You can see the tree from far down the lake. It was planted ninety years ago by my father and his brother. They put a fresh gar under it, prehistoric nourishment. The gar’s needle-nose is full of sharp teeth, likely floating loose under there, still.

The gar is under the worry. We have envisioned trees falling on the old cottage, especially this tree, yet it has stood through Warren Harding’s quick electric ascension and short term before his death, after which the scandals besmirched his name, followed by silent Cal, his wry wit and small government policies, followed by Hoover, Mr. Efficiency, who couldn’t fix the Great Depression’s downward spiral, followed by F.D. R.’s New Deal and Truman’s Marshall Plan, followed by General Eisenhower, and then

I was beginning to remember for myself. There was beginning to be me. There was beginning to be Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and miraculously, Obama, and then what happened next.

Come gar, from your 100-million-year past. Drift motionless near the surface waiting for smaller fish to swim by. Keep on living even in extremely inhospitable waters. Fill your swim bladder with air to supplement your gills. Breathe in, breathe out. I like to hear of survival.

Hold on, pine tree, for your hundred years, maybe two hundred. Wait out the thunderstorms. No, waiting is a kind of longing, so I must instead ask for repetitive needling, shedding, I must ask for cones, which contain the longing but don’t themselves long. The longing is bigger, and swallows its own tail, so to speak.

Sunrise comes to the top of the pine long before it reaches the ground. Beyond the tree is the lake, and across the lake, sunset and afterglow. The tree is so close to the water it must have some lake under it. Maybe the gar is swimming in the saturated sandy soil.

And in the remains of the years of forest, of logging, of regrowth. The dead gar’s molecules, the sky’s investment of air, woven in by the worms. Zebra mussels thrown to shore to die, and here come the dabbling mallards, a brood depleted, no doubt, by the giant snapping turtle that lumbers along underwater near the dock. The turtle’s head and neck rise like a fist from the surface. It needs all its muscle, since it can’t retract into its shell. Come snapper, come mallards, duke it out above the confusing invisible currents.

The tree has grown too straight to shadow the water. It is the kind perfect for ships’ lumber, a prize in the old days, why the Michigan forests were clear-cut. The Iroquois, Ojibwa, Zhingwaak, called it the Tree of Peace. When I refer to it as It, I have already left the Peace and have collected my little army of words, as if I could add a layer of bark, for protection.

My death slowly begins to feel warm and familiar, my tiny use of oxygen, my swimming waves that forget themselves immediately. I have learned to sleep on my back. I have come to prefer it, lying there as if dead already, like a felled tree, or one that has grown tired and come to prefer softening into the earth. Into its smell, made of itself.

I am a little comforted by the thought of leaving the pine behind, alive; maybe it will see the New World. The United States has been putting itself together all these years with the fuss and bother, the frantic losses, the space races, the brutal wars. And the guiding power of the sun, of gravity, each balanced and giving enough to allow for incursions.

It is all sad, I must say, only if you want to have love in the form you’re used to, have the voices you’re used to, the sand and waves you’ve grown up with. If you’re willing to see what’s next, it may not be so bad, but you won’t know, since you’re not available to say. The word bad was your word. The pine tree has never heard of it.

Fleda Browns The Woods Are On Fire: New & Selected Poems, was chosen by Ted Kooser for his University of Nebraska poetry series in 2017. She has nine previous collections of poems. Her work has twice appeared in The Best American Poetry and has won a Pushcart Prize, the Felix Pollak Prize, the Philip Levine Prize, and the Great Lakes Colleges New Writer’s Award, and has twice been a finalist for the National Poetry Series. Her memoir, Driving With Dvorakwas published in 2010 by the University of Nebraska Press. She is professor emerita at the University of Delaware, where she directed the Poets in the Schools program. She was poet laureate of Delaware from 2001-07. She now lives with her husband, Jerry Beasley, in Traverse City, Michigan, and is on the faculty of the Rainier Writing Workshop, a low-residency MFA program in Tacoma, Washington.

Photo by Lauren Crux