after the leaves have fallen, before the snow is a dense carpet over the soil,
prune. this will avoid any sap and ensure a bountiful reaping come spring.
i remember green eyes, how the rose clung to your skin and the light played an opiate trick on my senses, and how it was already time to go home when you arrived carrying a crate of your own records, and i didn’t want to charge you to down a rum and coke in the next thirty anyway. i remember you drank quickly and over tipped, hanging out only to ask whether this was a side gig, and was i a dancer, or was i an artist? I must have been 20, you fanned your chalk white teeth. i wanted to follow you all the way back to the northside.
allow half an hour to assess shape and size. round or spatulate?
square to match the hedges? is the skeleton bare? good;
this makes your job easier. trim branches which snap, cross, or slant inward.
cut those growing in pairs, onto a roof, into a fence.
we had gone to high school together. we played one of them through and decided the records weren’t very good. we craned our necks backward laughing, then pitched them forward to stare at our shoes. you told me you’d had your eye on me for a while. when the 4am bar closed we took the #3 forty minutes to my cramped studio, where you took off your clothes.
make your first cut on the stem collar, on the underside of the lip of bark from which the branch protrudes. you will want to keep the collar intact; avoid cutting flush with the trunk.
this will preserve vitality and prevent the spread of fungus.
your face puckered when i didn’t follow suit, your thin lips sealed like the flaps of an envelope. it was just that i figured we’d have a few mugs of beer and a handful of cigarettes first. i recall stuttering as i explained this. you were heavy on top of me and the alcohol gave your breath sweetness, like
prunes. when you were finished you hailed a cab, like in the movies. i chain smoked my cigarettes and swallowed mouthfuls of vomit.
sever the branch. cut several inches from the trunk—your second cut will hack through,
leaving a stub. remove the stub in one cut, preserving the branch collar. when the pruning is done, gather your tools.
i considered bailing on work the next night, having a lie ready by morning. still, there was the necessity of habit and the fridge was empty save for a gallon of milk. so i was whole, i told myself—serving at least enough to make rent. still i remember the question in the shape of a dress lying crumpled on the floor in the closet, with my sap still on the hem.
Jabulile Mickle-Molefe poetry and nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Anti-Heroin Chic, Petrichor Journal, Triangle House Review, and Alaska Quarterly Review. She is an MFA candidate at Ashland University. When she is not writing, she runs a sliding scale tarot and astrology business under the moniker The Rad Diviner and co-organizes the Trans and GNC Medical Relief Fund.