Long listed for the 2023 Urban Tree festival writing competition
Em Gray reads “Evergreen”
Long ago discharged, I revisit the tree at the mental health centre, lover-tender touch the keloids of its burls. Higher, its leaves are smooth-edged. I once presumed two species – one, with its spikes and clinginess, the well-established other. Since, I've learned a holly grows sharp lower to the ground for self-protection – it can leaf from one body a spectrum. In this garden, thin platitudes are screwed to a backless bench – seek and you shall find, hasty climbers have sudden falls. The tree remains as mute and patient as an elephant's knee, its branches an easy ladder. Here, small Picassos, are the bark eyes I remember that have borne untellable witness to the ones who pause to lock/unlock their quick-getaway bikes, search for fresh tissues, call mum. Amongst sap-bright lichen a V between two eyes invokes an owl who I imagine circling sadly the crossed boxing up of a single swerved gaze, a patient's mismatched socks. Darling, the owl (allowing me to stroke her wings) might say – here are berries for the darkest days. What's clipped for the taking grows back.