Sanctuary

by Alison Hurwitz (Cary, NC)

Incongruous, that towered height among the holly, butternut, 

hydrangea, along the oaks, camellias, black-green laurel hedge —

there it rose, so tall it steepled everything, as if to say, remember,

pray to what grows green above us.

A field-worn, furrowed man called Shorty came knocking once. He said

when young, he’d planted a young redwood seedling there, brought back

from California, vaguely hoped that it would someday grow to be 

a landmark. He’d removed his crumpled hat, his hand a map of years, 

his eyes as wide as forests, asked if he could go and touch the trunk, 

already girthed to temple, breathing dusk. My mother understood,

she a tree parishioner, so both of them remained a while in silence.

When Shorty went away, he left his story grafted to its branches. 

Dad cut back the deck each year, to give the redwood room to ring. Rare 

days when grandparents sat dappled on the deck, polite and tightly furled,

Jews and Catholics baffled past translation, they sat in shade below it, and 

in stillness, shifted into softening; green a common tongue between them. 

At seventeen, I’d park with my first love across the street, and kiss until the night 

dipped branches dark with longing. When, same car, same street, same boy, 

time wrenched us into ending, the tree stood by to witness, a shelter until 

my loss let go its spores, until my heart referned with undergrowth.

Ten years later, beneath the tree, my new husband and I stood quiet while my parents, 

faces filigreed with leaf-light, planted blessings in us. They prayed we’d tend

a sapling, make a small repair, something to green the broken world. My parents’ hope 

could sing the music out of wood.  Mitzvot and Meritum. Their reverence, ringed.

The day after my father died, when all I had was absence, I stumbled out to sit 

below our redwood tree. There, grief burrowing among its roots, I stayed until 

I found a seed and held it in my palm. I breathed and felt the way that branches 

lifted into blue, its birds built nests, the fledglings flew, each ending bending to beginning: 

holy as the timeless sky.

Alison Hurwitz’s work has appeared in Global Poemic, Words and Whispers, Tiferet Journal, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, Anti-Heroin Chic, Book of Matches, and The Shore, and is forthcoming in Amethyst Review, Rust and Moth, Thimble Magazine, Academy of the Heart and Mind, and SWWIM Every Day. She writes gratefully in North Carolina. To read more about her and her work, visit alisonhurwitz.com

1 Comment

Filed under American Jewry, Family history, Jewish, Jewish identity, Jewish writing, Judaism, poetry

One response to “Sanctuary

  1. David Marshall

    Truly beautiful, thank you.

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