My younger brother, a dutiful brave person, spends his work life studying
the chestnut fungus Cryphonectria parasitica so American chestnut trees
will not entirely vanish;
i’m especially glad for his work when i’m trying to get the skins off the brain-
shaped nuts with their curly, dented integuments.
He was the cheerful child in the family, less seized than his siblings by the idea
that to please our parents even somewhat we had to be almost or
completely perfect at each task.
It seems his studied fungus makes cankers of two types: either they swell or sink.
If sinking cankers, the wound kills the tree; it “knows” at its wound level
what a life force is. Some genes that hurt the fungus help the tree. If the tree
dies, the disease has become visible or it is visible because it dies.
Most of life’s processes are repeatable—at first i wrote “all of life’s” but that’s so
not true. Nerve-like structures fall from clouds only once. A shorter dawn
sets in before the main dawn. Millions rise & go faithfully to work,
taking their resolve, each person clears one throat, music is note by note,
my brother gets our elderly mother up, others in his family rise, he goes to his job
free of self pity, the suppressed cheer of his childhood transferred
to his lab mates who monitor the tiny lives growing without human stress, hate,
intention or cruelty but also without artful song so they dazzle no one.
My brother and i are as close as the skin on a chestnut is to the chestnut, as close
as bark of the tree to its uses. When our mother was sad she shut herself
in her room, & when she felt better she’d come out. You have to slough
some things off, she’d say, loving us with decades of feral intensity.
He goes along, days pass through the mostly everything that everyone is, a sense
of continuance is pulled from nothing, something produced when it can’t
stand being nothing, love in the experiments, numbers in the mystery,
the healing of the wound, Psyche sorting seeds like minutes, a wound
clinging to the tree, sometimes its fruit is food, sometimes the tree
is nearly perfectly waiting