Trees Gathering Themselves into Ceremony

   Perhaps it is the silence
that draws me to the grove at the end of the road
   curving down
from the house, vacant now.

   All I know is
I am walking toward the grove as the sky
   leans down, a September sky
so striking I am taken

   by its absence when I step
among the first trees. Heading for the heart
   of the grove, I stoop
and collect a handful of leaves—

   mostly oak but birch too,
even apple—and cup the leaves in my hands
   as if I were holding rain.
Their veins, intricate

   like the veins of a heart,
flow in a pattern I do not understand.
   When I crush the leaves,
the pieces, sharp and brittle,

   cut into my palms,
and I think of why I am drawn to this place.
   My grandmother
would sit out here on a summer afternoon,

   the trees blocking the sun.
Lost in time, she could not even imagine the day
   she would feel the small
explosion in her chest. Finally, as I walk deeper

   into the forest I know she’s here—
sitting in the chair she left permanently
   for such an occasion,
among the shadows of birch and oak.

Paul Alexander is the editor of the essay collection Ariel Ascending: Writings About Sylvia Plath and the author of seven books, including Rough Magic, a biography of Plath, and Salinger, a biography of J.D. Salinger that was the basis of Shane Salerno’s documentary Salinger, which appeared on American Masters on PBS. He has published nonfiction in The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Nation, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe, and The New York Review of Books, among many others. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry (Chicago), The Sewanee Review, Southern Poetry Review, POEM, Poetry Now, Mississippi Review, The Louisville Review, The Vanderbilt Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry, The Spoon River Quarterly, The Black Warrior Review, The Hiram Poetry Review, The American Journal of Poetry, Connecticut River Review, Deep South, Cold Creek Review, and The Gay and Lesbian Review. He is the author of Edge, a one-woman play about Sylvia Plath. A graduate of The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he teaches at the Eugene Lang College at The New School in New York City.