Not the Gods Themselves

“Honor and love to everyone who wills to do no harm,
but not the gods themselves oppose necessity.”

Fifth century Greek Simonides, quoted in R.G.H. Siu in “The Portable Dragon, the Western Man’s Guide to the I Ching.”

1.     Necessity

One week we were so broke I called around to see how much blood donors are paid.  Not much,  I discovered, and I was  too old anyway.  The same week, my usually cool husband  yelled at a young man in a hardware store who wouldn’t give him a refund.  It was an impressive display. But it didn’t work on the clerk,  a white-faced urbanite clearly lacking in mammal juice.  The amount in question, the money we needed to make it to the next week, was $72.  That week also the engine on the Toyota finally gave up the ghost, and we moved to the emergency back-up junker.  The closest bus stop to our house is eight miles away,   and there’s a hilly range between us and town.

One night at dinner we sat talking about doing some selective logging.  I was worried about fire, and my husband wanted some clear roads so he could actually manage and caretake the forest.  As we sat talking,  the phone rang and a man said he was calling from “Cedar Mountain Limited Liability Company,”  and they were looking to buy land or timber in our area.  It was our first conversation about cutting trees, and the first phone call inquiring about logging, in more than 30 years of living in the woods.  It seemed like providence. We told him to come up and cruise the land to give us an estimate.

He came up a few days later.  I had to meet a friend in town, and went out in the back-up vehicle, an elderly Plymouth.  The engine caught fire.  Smoke began pouring from the Hood as I passed under the St. Johns Bridge.  I called my friend, he came to pick me up and drove me home.

After our friend had left, Robert told me the cruiser had come and gave him an estimate on the trees.  “You should sit down,” he said, and handed me a slip of paper, on which was written $72,000.

I am not making any of  this up.  One week we were raising a ruckus to get back $72 we needed to live on, a week later a man in a white hat offered us $72,000.

That night four great horned owls ringed our cabin, one on each corner, and hooted.  That  had never happened before, and never happened again afterwards.


2.   One Financial Center

One Financial Center a flower of towers.
In the center not stamens,  but a hub of glass and marble.

Standing uncertain where waterfalls ran down
shiny walls cascading into
basins planted with jungle leaves
green as dollars big as the sums it took to plant this
fantasy jungle we felt like savages in a
Disney cartoon looking for
the financial fairy’s office 80 years and 30 stories
above the forest floor.

Spires of firs and sweet-smelling cedar
walls of green that stand when liferafts of
cool fog move in from the western

Just a step away from the
Moondust Greenery and the
marble walls,  dim corridors led to each tower
and its elevator bank,

Drab, low-ceiling hallways like
the utility level of a city floating in a
spaceship, everyone in sight some shade of
brown and pushing a
wheeled cart.

3.   The Promise Keepers

The man who wasn’t listed in the phone book
wrote us a check for $72,000,
the man in the white hat
that said  Promise Keeper, who
promised  selective cutting.

But industry mows everything:
“Selective” means leaving
the weaklings, the trees with the bent trunks
skinny spires with two branches at the top
“selective” means leaving
piles of slash and debris big as schoolbuses

The footprint of the
fallen forest was a
big leaf maple
red as flame
ablaze on the scraped soil
of an August hill.

4.   The Hanged Man

Hanging upside-down
from the branches of a tree
The Hanged Man grins.



Barbara LaMorticella

About Barbara LaMorticella

Barbara LaMorticella lives in the woods outside Portland, Oregon. She’s a long-time co-host of KBOO radio’s Talking Earth poetry program. Her second collection of poems, Rain on Waterless Mountain, was a finalist or the Oregon Book Award.
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