Seedlings from a Fallen Maple

Image courtesy of Midjourney

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To hail from a Fallen Maple and her twirling seeds meant that I was born into a world caught in the beginning spirals of a tailspin. Twenty-five or so miles from Gallup, our sign was a plain one. Plucked from a pile of leftover plywood, some uncle or auntie had, in white-chalk paint, etched the sign that framed our dirt-road entrance from that lone ribbon of highway: Fallen Maple Drive.

Our land’s namesake didn’t just hang openly, waving its branches in crosswinds to semis, trailers, and beaten fords. Instead, that paint-chipped sign feathered off into different directions. Unless you knew the exact tree, you would never know which path curved towards home, which gnarled roots guided us right across our rusted cattle-guards. From their porch-turned-watch towers, rez dogs sniffed toward cars rattling across those metal grates, rousing them from sun-bleached sleep.

Although I only spent a handful of years there, each day was bracketed by a half-mile trek to the tree’s shadow and, each day, the bus brought me back to its twisting branches as if it had been waiting, all that time, to unfold for me. I would walk, trash bags twisted onto my ankles to shield against snow melt, until I could rest against the bark, flick through songs, and watch as my breath drifted to the shivering leaves.

There, waiting for the bus to amble through forked roads, I imagined that Fallen Maple could do more than offer its shadow beneath the dawning sun. I imagined break-out fights in the snow, the shattering of glass bottles, and shouts would be absorbed into its heartwood fractures. I listened to everything that reminded me of lazy Carolina beach days: Nicki Minaj, when I felt good, bouncing along to the beat as I tumbled down the dirt lane. Drake, for when I decided I was in love. Spitfire Eminem was for the mornings I burst from the grated porch mid-run, when what I really wanted was to disappear into the mountain ridge towering above us.

On days when I disappeared into the pines, cradled by maple, Linkin Park was there to sing me home. “Hands Held High” still held my father’s voice; each lyric-trickle spiraled along maple seeds until it brought my parachuted father spinning into focus. Nestled at the roots, I would count how many seeds helicoptered perfectly into my palm. Sometimes, they were my heart in an open hand before I split them in two. Sometimes, they were my father arcing away from a military plane, eyes aiming for a smooth landing. I’d picture myself in his place, wanting to taste clouds in free-fall. In those daydreams, I would imagine a wish flower in place of that parachute, pulled just before the earth spiderwebbed into streets, neighborhoods, and highways. In that dream, floating away was as simple as plucking a stem free, closing my eyes, and making a wish. All I had to do was keep breathing beneath a Fallen Maple that never questioned what it meant to rise.

Brianna G. Reed is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

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