Nothing but a Few Bare Trees

Gregory Fraser

They were nothing but a few bare treeswarped in the north shore’s gauzy light,nothing but a few stripped hickoriesor oaks thinned by blight, their lowlimbs crusted in snow, but somethingin the way they stood apart from othersin that wood across acres of ice,something about their fixtureunder a hard white sky, caughtand held the eye. Still, they werenothing but a few bare trees—nothing,nonetheless, a few of us at first, then morewhose houses lined the south end’ssmoother shore, came to take for masts,gnarled and gray, of a schoonermoored in port, its twisted yardarmsstrung with sails furled and tied.In the hum of the here and now,press of errand and chore, that hazypremise could be consignedto atolls of the mind. It was nothing,after all, but a few bare trees. Yetin the hours close to dawn, or justat dusk, seated by picture windowsor rocking foot to foot, ghostedby our breaths on porches and docks,we couldn’t help but conjurewarmer waters, greener scenes.The wary among us thought of Cook,Magellan, brought down in bloodon islands far from home. The tragicrecalled Gauguin, ensconced inthatch and reed—suicidal, syphilitic.Those who sought adventure, nomatter the cost, heard the outlandscry, while the lonely and shut upached—some stifled sobs—at the prospect of escape.And those less rootless than the rest,less maudlin and less fraught,nearer their last days, stared outat a ship (if only a fewbare trees) stuck for a season inbut bound away from time,waiting to carry them off.

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Gregory Fraser is the author of four poetry collections: Strange Pietà (Texas Tech University Press, 2003), Answering the Ruins (2009), Designed for Flight (2014), and Little Armageddon (2020), all from Northwestern University Press. He is also the co-author, with Chad Davidson, of the workshop textbook Writing Poetry (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008) and the critical writing textbook, Analyze Anything (Bloomsbury, 2012). His poetry has appeared in journals including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Southern Review, Ploughshares, and The Gettysburg Review. Fraser is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.

“Gregory Fraser’s canny fourth collection of poems sets the human comedy to a soulful American soundtrack, a medley of pensive reveries and disarming reckonings. When it comes to distilling the maladies of the quotidian into tonic lyric feeling, his ear is sure and his aim is true. In its largeness of spirit and the fullness of its gifts, Little Armageddon is a slim volume that leaves a big footprint.”
—David Barber, author of Secret History: Poems

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