Junk Trees

by Kristen Staby Rembold

Painting by Susan Tekulve

Sweat equity, they call it.  That’s how
to become intimate with a person, place, or thing.

The first day we came and paced this land,
all along the borderlines, white mulberries.

They’ll come back if you miss a splinter.
Little did I know how determined they can be.

A mulberry growing so close to a fencepost
is a sign of neglect, neglect being all we could afford,

and we had come to know it in many forms: cracked
window glass, crumbling wood and paint,

relatives who couldn’t call or come.
We had to struggle out of chaos ourselves.


Here is the place I put in my shovel to dig for mulberry’s taproot,
yellow as sin, long as the sapling itself,

longer perhaps than our history together, its rootlets
running for feet underground, turning off

at odd angles like the rural highways
leading to this place we’ve come.

One has to shovel out old cinderblock
along with rich, red, fertile clay.

By now, I’ve learned to admire the mulberry’s
tenaciousness, to recognize and love its curious, distinctive leaves.

We knew this the moment we first saw it,
how we would come to work together, my husband and I.

Kristen Staby Rembold is the author of two books of poetry, Music Lesson, 2019, and What Used to be Country, forthcoming in January 2023, both from Future Cycle Press. She has also published two poetry chapbooks and a novel, Felicity. Her writing is forthcoming or has appeared in numerous periodicals, including Smartish Pace, Appalachia, The Hopper, Crab Orchard Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Cider Press Review, Radar Poetry, Blueline, and Literary Mama.