REQUIEM FOR THE TREE FORT I SET ON FIRE
By Tim Tomlinson
and requiem for the tree that held it.
Requiem for the woods surrounding
that tree and tree fort, now burnt to charred
stumps and blackened trunks standing like gnomes
over the smoking bark expiring on
ash heaps of scrub oak and scrap pine, cones and
needles, and dying centipedes curling
arthritically their one hundred brittle
legs two or three final times. Requiem
for the smoke, and the smell of the smoke caught
up in the whirlwind and blown over
the towns of Eastern Long Island.
Requiem for the backyards the fire reached.
Requiem for the split rail fences and
the redwood fences and the red hot chain
link fences, vined with ivy now black and
crisp and vaporous. Requiem for
the scorched lawns, the melted wading pools,
the carbonized toys, the steaming swimming
pools and the diving boards’ blistered resins.
Requiem for the back decks surrounding
the homes, the redwood staircases leading
to the patio furniture, the crumpled
picnic tables, the aluminum umbrella
poles with vinyl and polyester welded
to their sides. Requiem for the shingles
the fingers of fire climbed. Requiem for
the windowsills. Requiem for the windows –
the ones that burst in the fire, and the ones
the fire crept under, or through, or around.
And requiem for the curtains, requiem
for the blinds. Requiem for the bedrooms
and the beds, the bassinets, and the cribs.
Requiem requiem requiem.
Requiem for the upstairs, requiem
for the down, requiem for the basements
and the attics. Requiem for the pool
tables and ping pong tables and punching
bags, requiem for the stacks of Life
Magazine and National Geographic
Magazine, and requiem for wedding
dresses in boxes, the wedding pictures
blistered in frames, requiem for the brides
and the grooms and their children. Requiem
for the kids who built the tree fort I set
on fire, requiem for the fathers who
helped them, the big brothers who helped, and requiem
for the sisters who were not invited
to help, or to visit, but wanted to.
Requiem for the picture windows
exploding into the front yards, requiem
for the flower boxes and the rows of
hedges covered in glass, requiem for
the front yards, the bicycles with the melted
seats smoldering on the front lawns, the scorched
playpens stripped of their mesh, the hedges stripped
of their leaves. Requiem for my neighbors
running from their homes in flames, requiem
for the family members who watched their
family members burn. Requiem for
the families who watched their houses burn,
and requiem for the teenagers who
laughed at those burning houses, those burning
neighbors. Requiem for the neighbors
who did not like me, and requiem for
the neighbors who did. Requiem
Requiem for the shrubs and the hedges,
requiem for the maples and the vines.
Requiem for the housewives who spent their
afternoons drinking Schmidts from wide-mouth
bottles and requiem for their kids who
spent their afternoons hiding from them.
Requiem for the garages, and the cars
in the garages, and the lawn mowers
that caught fire and exploded, and the gasoline
cans that exploded, and the yard tools that
incinerated against the garage
walls, and the insulation that caught fire
and sent spumes of noxious fumes into
the atmosphere above the developments.
Requiem for the developments.
Requiem for Shoridge Hills and Shoreham
Village. Requiem for Shoreham Estates
and Blackfoot Trail alongside the sod farms.
Requiem for the sod farms, and for
the black families that worked them, whose kids went
to school with the white kids and were
invisible. Requiem for the invisible.
Requiem for John Street and the model
homes vandalized a dozen times before
occupancy, and fire. Requiem for
the chapel with the missing statue of
the Virgin, and requiem for the brothers
who stole the statue, and covered its head
with straw and a Nazi helmet, cradled
a toy machine gun in its arms. Requiem
for the brother who went to Vietnam.
Requiem for the brother who went to jail.
Requiem for the brother who robbed a
bank in Oakland, and requiem for his
sister who died of AIDS. Requiem for
the family of fourteen whose home overlooked
the Sound, whose children became nuns and priests
and car thieves. Requiem for the childless
couple who chased us from the empty lot
alongside their quiet Cape Cod into
the woods they thought they owned. Requiem for
the photo products factory, and its
open pit for waste in the woods alongside
the tree fort I set on fire. Requiem
for its waste, that caught on fire but did not
burn. Requiem for the smoke off that waste,
the lungs it seared, and the blood those lungs coughed.
Requiem for the radio tower
that transmitted news of the fire to the
surrounding towns. Requiem for the towns.
Requiem for Calverton and Wading
River. Requiem for Rocky Point and
Miller Place. Requiem for Suffolk
County. Requiem for the potato
fields and the 7-11s, requiem
for the backstops and parking lots and dumpsters.
Requiem for the hitchhikers and for
the cars that did not stop. Requiem
for the patrol cars that did, and requiem
for the patrolmen. Requiem for
the legless veterans who drove souped-up
Chevies with hand controls and pedal
extensions while smoking joints and drinking
beer and listening to Grand Funk Railroad
on eight-track tape decks. Requiem for
the GI bill that sent those veterans
back to school where they flipped off the flag or
burned the flag and patrolled the streets around
high schools when classes let out. Requiem
for the flags that burned on poles outside
the high schools and junior high schools. Requiem
for the schools, for the texts that went up in
flames in the schools, requiem for
the janitors and teachers and principals.
Requiem for the childhoods they wrecked,
the minds they destroyed. And requiem for
their childhoods, their minds. Requiem for
it all. Requiem requiem requiem.
Tim Tomlinson is a co-founder of New York Writers Workshop and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. This Is Not Happening to You, his first collection of short fiction, appeared in November 2017. He is also the author of Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire (poetry), and Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse. His work has been published in China, the Philippines, Singapore, Australia, in many venues in the US, and anthologized in the Brooklyn Poets Anthology, We Contain Multitudes: Twelve Years of Softblow, and Long Island Noir. He is a member of Asia Pacific Writers & Translators.
He teaches in the Global Liberal Studies Program at NYU.