We are crowded sisters
with roots that tangle and quiver
in the wind. Our roots cling
onto brittle pieces of shattered,
dried soil. Only crumbles hold
our skeletal bodies upright.
The leaves have long fallen,
consumed by creatures
who abandoned the forests
and now barren grounds of Ascenkin.
Our roots continued growing.
Moss crawled up our scarred bodies,
invading our cracks and creases,
soaked up our sap. But we stand tall,
our branches swaying
not because of the wind.
We create the wind.
We have no eyes to see the world,
but we can feel the rumble in our roots,
the magic, the shouting voices echoing.
We cannot echo back.
Hands rest on us. Their joints crackling,
like wispy roots under callused, webbed feet,
bare, treading on leaves. Our fallen
branches snapping. Both sound the same.
Low whispers and murmurs whistle
through mouths sitting ajar. Strange sounds
unstopped by tongues escape through gaps
that missing teeth leave free. They whisper
into our hollows their plans for battle,
but we cannot tell them that our roots
sense the landmines waiting.
They feel warmth by their campfires
at night, but we feel fear. Fear
that the flames will catch in the wind
and drift towards our bodies,
setting aflame our unbudding branches.
Once they were children. Once
we were sprouts. Once
they had cherubic naivete—
a rare innocence in war. Once
we were living trees. Once.
Are trees supposed to bow?
Branches supposed to droop?
Buds supposed to close and recede?
What is grown, is it supposed to ungrow?
We've been shot at. There are dents
in our bark. Bare wounds stinging
with the gentlest breeze. Vines crawl
up our bodies, moss too, unwillingly,
wrapping the wounds. Confining,
constricting, like a cage, like armour.
Protection? But perhaps not.
They use us as shields
because we are easier to use
than one of their own. They die
behind us. They die in front of us.
They die never beside us.
They do not care about our lives.
But we are immortal,
or were until they cut us down
and made ships that were set to sail to escape
elsewhere, to wreak terror upon new lands.
We want life. Why do they only want death?
We want life, and we will reclaim it, retrieve it.
And we will return and rise, and rise, and rise—
© Ai Jiang