I. The Empress
She leads him across the field twice, once in the morning when he is all knees and elbows, stumbling over rocks and calcified brush, then later, at twilight, under stars lifting him over stone, scrub, her tree-branch scepter gouging their way into night-time. When morning comes she pauses every now and then, bends over, and pulls an arrowhead from the ground. As they walk she keeps the trees always on the right-hand side.
He doesn’t know how she finds the tree out of all the others. At dawn they are all hazy like reflections of bones in water. Now, their boughs tangle until they are no longer plural. Nevertheless, she has returned them to it: the birch.
“She is above all things universal fecundity and the outer sense of the Word, the repository of all things nurturing and sustaining, and of feeding others.”
With her scepter, she knocks loose some twigs. From behind the space they’d occupied, the moon’s contours transpose into names and symbols grated into tree-flesh.
She doesn’t need to confirm anything. In a decision that disarms time, she spans the distance, fingertip-to-fingertip, between him and the initials of spring.
II. Seven of Wands (Courage)
Slush pools at the front door. Old wood, post-it note complaints from divorcees. She weeps in the master bedroom. The air is too thin for him to read. He holds her and his breath.
As she makes soup he pretends to read on the deck while looking downward, into the gulch, at the slurry spooling around the birch grove. He is distantly aware of the light reflecting off the mountains and radiating his skin. Absentmindedly, he holds the paper up to his face, soaking in the white. Eyes shuttering, the cabins slip from view, the whiteness (all white) becomes anonymous, virgin territory once again.
The taxonomy had always been lost on him. Aspens, birches, he could never tell the difference. Even in the cold, dry winter air, he squints and fancies he sees cherries stretching downward, ripening. How was he to know?
She emerges from the screen door behind him. The tattoo on her breast, the one that he shares, shrivels in the afternoon light. She has never before been this pale.
I can’t keep up with the deluge of foreign things much older than I am, her litany of botanical classifications which, I assume, are meant to make us feel much better about coexisting with them—because we gave them names, we looked at them long enough to pick them apart, we recognized sovereignty. Yes, this is her kingdom; she knows her subjects.
The branch never leaves her hand. But she will leave me. Betula papyrifera, mi corazon.
III. Inventor (Man of Crystals)
As children they reenacted scenes from The Wicker Man, though they never—even as their voices cracked and expanded—managed to sing in key. They bought their ribbons from dollar stores, wrung them around the dead white trees, hopping barefoot, mashing imaginary grapes; they wrote poems on conservative newspapers that they slipped under the doors of retirees.
The enemy is a reflection of you; borders for frames, panes indistinguishable.
She drives them down to the grove because she knows how to do all-wheel. He thinks of Pagan rituals, of tradition, of whether or not there is a one and if there is, why is she so silent, and why can’t he find any arrowheads, and how does the skin of a birch hold these scars for so long without reknitting back together. Initials, political messages, spiritual platitudes.
It’s because they are ageless, he realizes. A hierophant only knows the language of the ineffable.
When they pull into the embankment looking out across the field, the sentinels of winter vertebrae, she tells him, “They do love their divinity lessons.”
But all he hears is the splitting of fibers.