Measuring Rings

Settle your shifting vision on the maple stump
your son is standing on, growing out
of all your ancient history. The past keeps repeating
in new rings, health you measure by breadth.
You count the number of times you’ve grown
out of the fire, the layers of heartwood healing
over scars, new branches jutting from woundwood.

Do you see the little man stomping his feet
on this stump, laughing? Stop searching
for ways to hollow out your trunk. It is hard
to distinguish redemption from regret; you must see
the heartwood for what it is – dormant, but solid –
here only so you have something to grow on,
matter to attach your sapwood.

The present flows directly from the past.
As every second dies, a new one stumbles in
to stand on the back of the last. If the sun
indeed will rise to warm your town again,
you’ll take this trail tomorrow, but it will never
be the same – you cannot pilfer this moment
in your pocket to pull out a year from now.

Without the bouncing toddler on the stump,
there is no playful coaxing down, no upward-
reaching hand, no march down the sidewalk.
Every dead and living branch you’ve wished away
would erase this knot, this casual miracle
sprouting light with every hallowed breath.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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