The magnolia tree in my front yard blossomed in early March; the branches weighed down with huge white flowers, only a breath away from the ivy-coated ground. My brother and I used to swing from these branches, flipping over them and putting our weight on thinner and thinner limbs as we monkeyed closer to the top. We’ve had to cut down two of our favorite branches since then; “they rotted out from the inside,” our parents tried to explain, but we didn’t understand. We couldn’t.
It’s been a few years since I’ve felt the burn of bark against my palm, blood rush to small scratches against my wrists. The stumps of the old branches my brother and I used as footholds are nothing more than slight curves in the trunk of the tree now, and I lose traction four times before I can pull myself into the low canopy. The exhilarating fear of being ten feet off the ground hits me again, and I climb.
My brother and I always wanted a treehouse. Maybe it was the Magic Tree House series, or maybe it was the allure of a hideaway only we could reach. Upon convincing our mom that it would, in fact, not kill us, we appealed to our woodworking grandfather, and one can find, just three branches away from where I pulled myself up, a hand-built three-by-two-foot wooden platform. It wasn’t exactly what we imagined, but the rush of disappointment faded quickly once we realized this meant more time up there, laying down to read, write, seeing who could throw red magnolia seeds the farthest and jumping down from higher and higher branches to give our grandma the occasional mini heart attack.
The wooden planks are smoother than they used to be, coated with a thin green layer of age. When I lie on my back, my legs dangle off the edge, toes dancing off the ground. I run my fingers over the bark of the trunk with one hand, skipping over the ants making gravity-defying runs between earth and sky, and shield my eyes from the sun with the other. A bubble of birdsong, faraway highway traffic, and some kid playing basketball down the block places me in this temperate evening, the air thick with humidity but no trace of heat or cold.
Above me is another rotting branch, burst open and black inside. I look past it to the light streaming through the leaves and I start humming. Poems write themselves in my head and fly off on the wings of that red cardinal on the fence, yes, that right over there. I pull myself up, twist and turn myself to the first branch, and, as if I’m eight again, I crouch, wrap my elbows around its neighbor, and let go.