Red Tree

A red tree. An ancient autumn oak by the graveyard at sunset. The bone yard is on the university campus and the color almost hurts to look at. A supernatural color. I sit on a gravestone and can hear the school bells playing the evening song. A light body of breeze shushes through the boughs above like a beautiful language I cannot understand.

It’s my freshman year.

Today I went to my class about Shakespeare. The professor is finding inventive ways to make these incendiary texts boring and lifeless as dust. I sit in the back of the lecture hall and read ahead. I find Hamlet in a graveyard.

Let me see. [takes the skull] Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times, and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. —Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar?

My next class is Human Physiology. First, the professor wheels in the skeleton of a short woman. Then he begins to pass around actual femurs and an actual human skull. I gently run my fingertips over the surface between the ocular cavities where shining eyes once saw. And then the professor had us put on gloves and tenderly handed me an actual human brain. It was shocking – simultaneously lighter and heavier in my palms than I could have imagined.

An entire life happened here. Every memory, every dream, every joy and grief, every sight and sound and smell and taste and touch, every idea, every day, every laugh and fear and hope, from the moment of birth until the bell of death, had been housed in what I held in my hands. A soul once perched in the mortal boughs of these branches and sang.

Who were you? Where did you come from? Where did you go?

I stumbled lab to library, dormitory to dinner hall. People were everywhere, laughing and fighting and making out. What are we? And then here, to sit on a tombstone with an actual name and date. Above me a red oak tree. But there is no red that is as red as blood.