Heart of a Tree
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time,” says Romans 8:22.
An oak tree in Holmesville, Mississippi groaned all night after hatred used it to destroy, to kill, to lynch Burt Bridges.
That day, as the murderers swung the rope over the tree’s fattest branch, as they strung the man up by the rope, the tree cried out from deep with its belly.
“Deliver me! Deliver me!” A futile plea, for it could not uproot itself and flee. And the men could not hear it; their ears and hearts were clogged with spite for the black man before them.
The tree tried to will its many branches into spears to rain down upon the murderers. And when it failed, it envied the willow, with its thin, wiry, unreliable branches. Yes, the oak’s strength was its downfall. Its destiny—to remain still, to be steady, sturdy for man, for beast – was its curse.
All of this it felt in its frustration, in its role as an accomplice to Burt’s murder, and who can know how many others? Somewhere, in the center of its trunk, lovers from another time (a century or the day before), skin against bark, carved out a heart with an arrow shooting through it, a heart sandwiched between the names of a boy and a girl, etched for an eternity, and so the tree served a dual role: to bring two lovers together forever and to tear two others apart. Forever.
Listen to the oak praying for a tornado powerful enough to uproot its mightiness. Praying for a hurricane to drown it, to wash it of its sins. Listen to it moaning against man, yearning for salvation.
For more than a century, beetles have drilled tiny holes into the oak’s flesh, releasing sticky tears that drip like molasses throughout the grooves of the bark, spilling over into the limbs of Burt’s family tree, but instead of gluing the members together, the sap separates and seals them into isolated pods.
A family dismembered.
Every year, in remembrance of that Day of Lynching in 1904, all the tree’s leaves fall to the ground. A mass suicide.
About Cassandra Lane: Formerly a newspaper journalist and high school teacher, Cassandra Lane is an alum of Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation and A Room of Her Own. She received an MFA from Antioch University, and has published stories in The Bellingham Review, The Manifest-Station, Writers Resist, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, The ScreamOnline, Everything but the Burden, Ms. Aligned and more. Her story is part of The New York Times’ recent “Conception” project—an animated visual/audio series exploring motherhood and choice. A Louisiana native, Cassandra lives with her husband and son in L.A. and is the managing editor of L.A. Parent.