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Excerpt from “Speculations: Trees” by William Morris

by Patricia | 10.22.09

II.

A FEW DAYS LATER, an old man—a carpenter—came and chopped down the fig tree. It took the better part of an afternoon. The bark and outer layer of wood easily flaked away, but the core of the trunk was almost rock hard. The rotten, withered branches rained powdery shreds of wood, as his axe chiseled its way through.

      By the time he finished, the axe had dulled, and the sun embraced the horizon. His son-in-law came to call for dinner, and they dragged the tree home. 

      The next morning, the old man cut off the remaining, scraggly branches and rasped away layers of trunk until only the heavy core remained. When he finished, the piece of wood measured two arm lengths and three hands in diameter. The wood was darker than fig wood usually is; its grain tight and mottled.

      The old man let the wood sit for weeks in a corner of his workshop.  But then, after his daughter’s latest disappointment, a thought entered his mind, a thought he couldn’t let go of even though it filled him with horror and awe.

      He planked the wood and joined the boards to make a rectangular box. He cut two green branches from an olive tree and began the slow process of curving them. When they were fully cured, he trimmed and sanded their edges. He fitted the bottom of the box with four short posts and added the runners. He sanded it and rubbed it with oil and resin until the oddly dark fig wood took on an almost silvery glow.

      When it was done, he set it down. The cradle rocked ever so slightly, slyly mocking his talents. His daughter was old, almost past childbearing years. He moaned, brushed at his eyes and held his palms to his temples in disbelief. This thing he created was a beautiful abomination, a piece of devilish craftsmanship borne of unrighteous yearnings and a cursed tree.

      He could not bear the thought of giving it to her. The look on her face. The look that would be filled with pain and that fierce hope that he might know something, that some small prophecy had been burned into his mind and heart.

      He buried it beneath a pile of scrap wood in a corner of his shop. Two months later he died.

      Six months after that, his granddaughter came into the world, crying, her skin dark and rosy, eyes deep and thirsty, hair thick and black. Her mother rocked her in her arms—her movements slow and tender; her rhythm even and precise.

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The elusive William Morris is the benevolent dictator-genius behind the Mormon arts and culture blog A Motley Vision and, truth to tell, WIZ as well.  He lives in suburban Minneapolis with his wife and daughter. Refugees from the insanely-priced, but lovely San Francisco Bay Area, the Morrises love their new life in the frozen north. And don’t pity them, William still takes public transportation to his work* (a position in higher education marketing/pr at a college in Minneapolis). William’s professional career has caught up with him and he now serves in a public affairs calling for the LDS Church. Which is great, but he misses teaching.

*This is very important because it a) keeps his blood pressure low, b) means that the Morrises can remain a one car family, and c) gives him time to read and write.

“Speculations: Trees” won honorable mention in 2006 Irreantum Fiction contest and was published in Irreantum (Winter 2007/Spring 2008–double volume), 93-96.

4 Responses to Excerpt from “Speculations: Trees” by William Morris

  1. Patricia

    William has one of the most unusual visionary aesthetic senses I’ve seen. All that Blake and Kafka, I suppose.

  2. Wm Morris

    Thanks! You know, torn from the context of the other pieces, it’s a little more menacing and melodramatic than I intended. And less funny. No regrets — but it’s interesting how fragile the ecosystem of context can be.

  3. Patricia

    Yes, that’s interesting–words changing depending on their surround. Out of context, this piece makes us “work for it” even more. If questions arise (they should), the sensible thing would be to look at the work in its original environment.

    I also went back and re-read the context for the allusion, Mark 11. Funny–never put together before the relationship between the cursing of the fig tree and the tossing of the moneychangers. Duh.

  4. Lora

    I always enjoy writing that can recreate the rhythm and senses of a craft for someone on the outside (like me). Right now I’m reading The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irvine Stone, and my favorite parts bring to life the stone cutters and their relationship with their material. They know the different moods of stone, its colors and feel, and so on. As they talk they restrain themselves with short sentences that they can fit into the rhythm of their work.
    Your excerpt was at least as good.

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