O. Alan Weltzien

UnBuilding My Father

For decades the A-frame, sleeping cabin 

for two, angled sharply past the tall

shrub beyond the cabin’s corner, its gable

a long straight line above salal carpet,

far below our big Doug fir and Western

hemlock, the inverted steep V and cedar

boards bleached from a diet of steady

rainseep and marine air.  When I 

unlocked the door atop three small

steps its own must swirled in my nostrils

and I knew I stood only here.

Near but separate, private sanctum

where low voices didn’t creep inside

open bedroom windows. Dad designed,

blocked, sawed, nailed frame, threaded

cedar panels bottom up, fitted small

door window, stretched mesh below

apex. We took turns sleeping beneath

diagonal 2” x 4” braces, sniffed the 

faint tarpaper, exchanged confidences.

Once a college friend, Marsha White,

slept in the A-frame but I only kissed

her goodnight, too shy for sex. Then I

walked into my adulthood as did my

brothers and after more summers,

sons or nephews unrolled sleeping

bags, warmed the hut with laughter

but they also departed and it stood 

abandoned, storage shed of forgotten 

voices. Moss surged on cedar, dirt 

moistened corner posts and plywood 

edges. New owner of familiar ground, 

I crowbar soft panels, intent on 

replicating Dad’s weave, board by board; 

I dig out corner anchors, hear hammer 

or bar sink into pulp, concede the spread 

of rot. Instead of makeover, my brother 

and I pry the supports, pummel patches 

of siding, break the floor, undoing step 

by step Dad’s measurements and curses

and sweat. Never a builder easy with tools—

failed inheritance—my hands touch his

half a century later, I throw down the pieces

he crafted into a fairy tale A, its scent lost 

in time’s thickening soil.

Tree = Truth

“Never let anyone touch this tree,” a local arborist

                        told my mother decades ago.

Dad planted the redwood in the ‘60s before

                        the remodel and it rose,

widening cone with fat base, near

                        the new garage’s front corner.

I trimmed lowest branches, swept needles

                        every visit, fingered red

tan bark, deeply cracked and seamed; burnished ridges

                        slid under my fingers.

Stepping away I’d lean far back, follow

                        the tapering cone to its

peak, confident in its aspirations beyond

                        the second-growth Doug firs

which danced in the wind before my child eyes.

Nearly four years after the sale, no sign

                        of habitation; instead, moss

bunches across the lower patio, ivy crawls

                        up the brick fireplace,

spirea and azalea and rhododendron branches careen

                        and sag like burst fireworks,

Dad’s apple trees, unpruned and unharvested,

                        grow into each other,

a spindly web, and gray scale and moss

                        creep on the trunks while

the house settles behind its white gray paint

                        like Miss Havisham’s wedding

dress. Worse than any teardown or makeover,

                        a blight that rots

our generations of care, mocks our husbandry,

my parents’ years of planting, my years of fertilizing

                        and weeding and trimming.

Our shrubs zoom unchecked, indifferent to new

                        owners who ignore

the old story except for the most valuable tree,

                        far north green candle,

Sequoia sempervirens. They pay a logger who fells

                        it and companion firs

whose rounds settle in ivy, jumble of giant

                        discs quietly decomposing,

unused like the house. My rage churns my stomach,

                        I struggle

to inhabit the mindset that destroys tree truth,

                        that reduces tall life

to cast off clumps beyond hands or heart,

“the slow smokeless burning of decay.”  

O. Alan Weltzien, an aging English professor in Montana (USA), has published dozens of articles, two chapbooks, and nine books including three poetry collections, the most recent of which is “Rembrandt In The Stairwell” (2016). Weltzien still loves to ski, scramble peaks and backpack, and travel internationally.

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