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Sharon Kennedy-Nolle


The Big Trees by Paul Cezanne

That abandoned cabin off the Appalachian trail,
ragged West Virginian oak forest, far out
redoubt for your last stand,

July, two o’clock, in the stilled, cicada heat.
At fourteen, you are Meade, so we get to be Lee and company,
steeling ourselves for a last frontal assault.

There you crouch under the pane-less window, holed up
with your bag full of acorns
carefully gathered for days before,
waiting, waiting
trigger finger squeezing one,
as your younger brothers and I weakly
return your sure fire, from our lesser store.

So hard flung, how those acorn nubs stung!
One good hit—pricking the skin to bleed
enough to call it quits.

Once you got it in the eye,
ambushed on the Crestline trail,
then had to burn the afternoon getting out to urgent care;
you were fine, but bitter at your brother,
as if he had aimed to kill—
we all took to wearing goggles
you stole from the school’s lab room.

Our family was founded on civil war,
though Dad was always out of it,
aping the battles, drilling to enfilade,
jumping split rails of chevaux de frise,
staying always in the line of fire.

No one ever let anybody win.

Always three against one,
no one was on your side.

I pled your much younger brothers needed a strong ally,

but I was lying,
a part of me wanted to beat you.

This time your brothers finally decoy.
while I storm your bunker, snatching
your hefty ammo bag, running for the laurel hills.

Victory! Victory! We’re whopping it up now,
while you curse us,
and we curse you back for being a sore loser.

Until you took your life eight years later,
I don’t think you ever once surrendered.


About the writer:
Sharon Kennedy-Nolle received an MFA from the Writers’ Workshop as well as a doctoral degree in nineteenth-century American literature from the University of Iowa and MAs from Johns Hopkins University and NYU. Chosen as the 2020 Chapbook Editor’s Pick by Variant Literature Press, Black Wick was published in 2021.

Image: The Big Trees by Paul Cezanne (1839-1906). Oil on canvas. 31.8 x 25.5 inches. 1904. Public domain.

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