No Longer There
My students are working in groups and I’m standing in the front corner of the room, overseeing and keeping them on track, trying to intuit if and when they have questions but don’t want to speak up or even raise their hands, but then I look out the window — this room we’re in is located on the side of our centrally-located-on-campus building such that our view out these windows is what the student body here, and also everyone in town, calls The Diag, the central heart of campus that, where I went to undergrad, was referred to as The Quad, and where I got my MFA was Main Quad, these university landscapes of trees and grass sectioned off into smaller swatches of trees and grass by brick walkways connecting a handful of university buildings like arteries pumping students through the body of campus, lub-DUB, lub-DUB, keeping it alive — and I see two men working together, taking down one of The Diag trees; one man watches, showing the other man where to cut, how deep, at what angle, directing the other man, the one with the chainsaw, the man who takes his chainsaw and cuts where, as deep, and at the angle directed, pushing the chainsaw into the tree and pulling it out again, small cuts, and I stall, I tell my students to keep working because I’m hypnotized, I suddenly have this deep desire to watch these two men work, and I think about how I sometimes devote my classes to work days, gifting my students the time to get some work done with as little distraction as possible, and how much I enjoy the sight of a classroom full of students writing, being productive, getting work done, and often when I teach, I talk about the process of writing, how you have to take it a day at a time, one page at a time, paragraph by paragraph, word by word, not unlike, I realize in this moment, this man adding small cuts to this tree, he can’t just cut through it all in one go, it’s too big, he has to break the task down into manageable pieces, he needs to be able to control when it falls down, and where, and piece by piece is the only way to be able to exert that kind of control, maybe over anything but definitely over something as big as this Diag tree…and then it’s ten till the hour and class is over, I tell my students they can pack up, I tell them I hope the day was productive, I tell them I will see them in a couple of days, and then they’re on their way to their next classes or they’re done for the day or they have a break before their next class and they’re going to eat or meet up with friends or study or I-don’t-know-what, and I want to stay where I am and just keep watching, I want to watch this man wield his chainsaw, I want to watch him work, and I want, too, to see this tree fall, both as end result of that work and also just as beautiful visual unto itself, this large tree standing tall into the sky and then falling, come crashing down, but there’s another class in this room after us who I need to leave and make room for, and also I have another class I have to get to myself, it’s only right across the hall but that means its windows look out the opposite side of the building, not out at The Diag, and I’m disappointed knowing the tree is going to fall while I’m not watching, and I know it will have fallen and be gone by the next time I’m in this room, two days from now, but even still, I won’t be prepared for how gone it will be, for how it will barely even look like a tree had just been felled, I’d probably not even notice its absence at all had I not watched this act of bringing it down, and I’ll stare at the freshly cut stump and the lack of any branches or sawdust or any evidence at all of its felling and I’ll think about these things that disappear when we’re not looking, these things that were there in some moments of our lives and then, in other, later moments, no longer are, these things that have been felled, taken down, removed, disappeared.
Aaron Burch is the Founding Editor of Hobart, and the author of the criticism-turned-memoir Stephen King’s The Body and the story collection Backswing.
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Art Martial Raysse/Fred Romero CC2.0