Invasive Species

                                                We knew which trees were going to die,
                                                not by the shape of their leaves, but by the purple
                                                traps that tagged their branches. My mother

taught us that the emerald ash borer smuggled
itself into our country in packing crates
aboard foreign ships. Each Missions Sunday,

                                                she’d pierce the map’s skin
                                                with another pushpin, a red string
                                                stretching out from our church

to each of its mission fields: Madagascar,
Uganda, Pakistan. What began
as a star turned into a spider

                                                & then something darker, malignant:
                                                a bright red blotch. At night, the beetles
                                                would slip their eggs beneath the bark

of our backyard’s ash. It takes ten years
for the emerald beetles to reduce a region’s trees
to memory. By the time I return home, all the ash

                                                will be gone. When our neighbors
                                                the Ashes woke to their house burning down,
                                                I couldn’t sleep for a week, terrified

that a name could hold that much weight.
After I married my husband, I changed
mine, left my father’s behind. As it ages,

                                                the ash tree can change itself from male
                                                to female. Once, as a boy, I slid my fingers
                                                into the tree’s grooved skin,

through the maze of scars the beetles
left behind. One landed on my wrist, a jewel
of a certain color—but when it stretched its wings

                                                to fly away, the light flashed against
                                                its rubied abdomen. Even the most beautiful thing,
                                                out of place, can become a knife. Every night

my mother kneels by her bed & prays
for that part of me we can’t unname
to pass away. On Sundays, when my father

                                                asks for prayer requests from the altar,
                                                she calls out, I have a son I have a son
                                                I have a son I have an unspoken.

Brandon Thurman is the author of the chapbook Strange Flesh (Quarterly West, 2018). His poetry can be found in the Adroit Journal, Beloit Poetry Journal, Nashville Review, RHINO, and others. He lives in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas with his husband and son. You can find him on Twitter @bthurman87.