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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 9: August 2021
Prose Poem: 295 words
By Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Into the Oak


If you are a child, just clamber up the tree barefoot. Adults need strategy and a thorough reconnoitering of limbs. Gloves would also be prudent. The child is halfway up the tree while you stand thinking. Bark dust falls into your eyes from her progress. Now it’s in your mouth. Get going. Pull with your arms. Push with your legs. You were weightless as a child, like the one twenty feet above you. After ten feet, breathless, you rest on a limb with your back against the trunk. The child still climbs. She must be almost to the top. The tree helps you as much as possible, placing its limbs just a comfortable stretch apart. No worse than yoga. No dead wood. In the broad soft leaves, you feel safe as an eaglet in its aerie. Higher branches dwindle here like air in Colorado. The child whispers loudly she has found a nest with hatchlings. Your last words are “Don’t touch it” as your foot slips on loose bark and you plunge back-first through the branches. You hear your shirt rip but don’t feel it. You try grabbing limbs with your limbs. Sometimes that slows your fall a little. A loud rustling sound is your face scrubbed by innumerable twigs. You see sky and the path you snapped apart on the way down. This tree, face it, just spit you out. You land, breathless but not broken, like 150 pounds of flour on a wet mattress. The child shinnies down the trunk fast as an ambulance. Your hands are camouflaged with sap and dirt, gash on your forehead, schmutz in your hair, one shoe. She says, “I brought you an egg.” Broken in two, having served its purpose, but still beautiful.

Elizabeth Kerlikowske’s
Issue 9, August 2021

first full-length book of poetry, Dominant Hand, is available from Mayapple Press, and she is co-author with artist Mary Hatch of Art Speaks: Paintings and Poetry (Kazoo Books, 2018). Other books by Kerlikowske include The Shape of Dad (a memoir in prose poems), Last Hula (winner of the 2013 Standing Rock Chapbook Competition), and Chain of Lakes.

She has been publishing her poetry and fiction for more than 20 years in such journals and magazines as Encore, Cincinnati Review, Passager, and Poemeleon, among others. Her work is also anthologized in Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence (White Pine Press, 2016); The Female Complaint: Tales of Unruly Women (Shade Mountain Press, 2015); two of the annual KYSO Flash anthologies, Accidents of Light (2018) and Earth Hymn (2019); and in the Michigan writers anthology published by Western Michigan University (WMU).

Kerlikowske completed her doctorate in English at WMU in 2007. She also creates visual art and has recently completed the Hester Prynne Chair, first of a series of literary women chairs. An arts activist, she is president of the Poetry Society of Michigan, and she served for 30 years as president of the Kalamazoo Friends of Poetry. She’s retired from a teaching career at Kellogg Community College.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Featured Artists Mary Hatch and Elizabeth Kerlikowske in KYSO Flash (Issue 9, Spring 2018); includes half a dozen of Kerlikowske’s ekphrastic prose poems and micro-fictions inspired by Hatch’s paintings

Three in Prose by Kerlikowske in DIAGRAM (Issue 5.1): “Forty Winks,” “The Girls’ Room,” and “Midway”

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