The Sycamore

The young veteran — a double
amputee — is still learning how
to pilot a wheelchair. He stops
a few feet from the concrete lip
of the pond, gazing across at
a sycamore shining in the sun.
His eyes travel down the trunk
& into the water, the shadow
going one way, the reflection
another. A carp slides under
the flesh-toned bark. Meanwhile,
his flannel shirt has turned into
a screen for reflected sunlight,
dazzling the mallards crowding
around his chair. He glances
down at the dancing shadows
on his chest, then reaches behind
for a bag of breadcrumbs,
which he sets there where a lap
used to be, in that abyss.

15 Replies to “The Sycamore”

  1. When my wife and I are out around running errands or whatever, and we see a recent veteran amputee, it absolutely arrests us. (Unfortunately, this is something that happens more and more.) We wonder and worry how damaged we all will be as a people by this terrible war.

    In historical-critical glosses on the gospels, scholars say that Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore because this tree’s limbs are so often ladder-like. That broken man could do something that the one in the poem cannot.

  2. Brett, thanks for refershing my memory about Luke 19:4. I see that the King James Version uses an archaic spelling, “sycomore.” (For anyone else who wants to see what we’re talking about, you can read the passage in context here.)

    I can’t help wondering, though, whether in addition to the ease of climbing it, the sycamore wasn’t chosen because of the smooth texture of its bark, visually reminiscent of human skin. One thinks of the blind man who gains his sight in Mark: “He saw men as trees, walking.”

  3. Very powerful word pictures. As one who works with the disabled, I feel that you have captured the emotional as well as the physical losses of this young man.

  4. Another fine, powerful poem, Dave. I especially liked the “carp sliding under the flesh-toned bark” and the “abyss” at the end. I see disabled men in wheelchairs feeding the ducks in the park here quite often – but they aren’t wartime amputees.

    I’d like to hear you read it too.

  5. Glad you liked it, Beth.

    I see disabled men in wheelchairs feeding the ducks in the park here quite often

    Really? As seldom as I visit cities, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a thing. I was just trying to imagine what I would do if I were confined to a wheelchair.

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