Rebecca Foust

Dream of the Rood, Reprise

I wanted to be the girl with the small sharp shears who could balance 
a child with a stone, who knelt in a glade 

and laid sticks at right angles to build her own house where the violets, 
her friends, had tender faces and leaves. 

The mines were abandoned, silk mills closed, the railroad reduced 
to one line, one long low wail at 2 am. 

The town’s reason, gone. Stripper pit/strawberries/stripper pit/corn. 
Coke-caked smokestacks, brick pink 

in morning sun. Hollow train barns, canals silted in. Stores boarded up,
stained-glass fan windows still parsing light, 

the dance pavilion’s million small panes chalked white. Sick rivers 
and orchards, stick thickets in ground 

gummed with tar. Each corner’s bar facing a church, the horizon’s broad 
band of blue mountains gashed by gravel 

where the power went in. Or where, the tale tells, a giant was crushed 
by the burst sack of his own greed: each stolen child 

replaced by a stone and the sack re-sewn by the last one to leave, a girl 
with sharp shears who knew when not to knot the thread. 

Woodland paths ferned and footed with teaberry and mayapple, supplicant 
moss raising small ochre cups to catch rain,

and always the rain, or clouds sodden with the idea of it, pressing down. 
Home was where I went to be alone. 

Fourteen elbows at table, seven faces in one mirror, a babble and blur 
in which each tended their bright bubble 

of silence alone. My mother deep in her book, my father in his bottle— 
visions of splintered dry ice, church people

tranced and speaking in tongues—I lived in a world traced 
by the footprints of sparrows on snow 

but narrated myself an English orphan with imaginary and very small friends. 
“Honey, I’m worried for you,” 

my mother said. “People like us just get knocked down.” My sisters and I 
ran in the hot dark to hide, hoping not to be found; 

we played Statues; we played games that taught us, when touched, to freeze. 
The first poet I understood had been dead 

for twelve centuries when I read what was written in stone, in the language of tree 
and pain, and a voice with no name 

called out to me, called me alive across time; he or she called me, 
and I began to remember it all.

The Dream of the Rood is a medieval poem written by an anonymous 
poet, and it is about a wanderer who comes upon the true cross, 
called a “rood” in the form of a dead tree that then streams with 
blood then is blazoned with jewels.