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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 11, Number 2, June 2017
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Michael H. Lester
Los Angeles, California, USA


When the Core Gets Rotten

Dutch elm disease arrives in Detroit in the 1950s, browning a gray city. The weather is like gruel: either too hot or too cold. Boarded-up buildings, double-digit unemployment, and rampant crime litter the streets.

Miraculously, I pass the City exam with no previous training or experience and become a tree artisan helper. I learn how to tie various arborists' knots, such as Blake's hitch, a bowline, and the sheet bend. How to climb trees, operate a pole saw, and wield a chain saw. How to trim branches from the cherry picker (a hydraulic lift for trees too hard to climb). And how to cut limbs, prune trees, patch the new cuts with tar, and feed the branches into the chipper. I also learn the fine art of catcalling at the ladies we pass from our chipper truck—uncouth kings of our own little dying and decrepit domain.

Today, we prepare to cut down an infected tree. I warn the residents to move their cars and stay out of the way. One woman comes to the door partially exposed, wearing a demented smile.

a city in ruins
eaten away at its core . . .
a tiny beetle
tucked in the bark
spreads the word

A few residents watch the arborists fell the afflicted elm. A barefoot boy looks on with a vacant stare.

on the cracked sidewalks
and pothole-riddled streets
of a blighted neighborhood
another tree shatters
into pockmarked pieces

Someone shouts Timber! a little too late. The city had fallen years ago.

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