Roots to Touch Sky

Edited by Julia Rios

February 2019

Listen to this story, narrated by C.S.E. Cooney:

     1. The story of trees
is pressed into their flesh
and in their gnarled roots
breath

The amount of foliage overhead
can be corrected
with the amount of root tissue
below

and in the ground, the mouth of earth
under the canopy of dark and light
under the canopy of roots
and fallen leaves
lives a city of bones

and the names
that gave the bones flesh
and the flesh that gave
the names life


     2. In the future
fossils give the hardened record
of half-lives, the imprint
of those worked beyond exhaustion
of shoulders grooved with
the weight of despair

of minds lost in a cave of
dreams, a record of nameless
labor, of plunder


     3. Coal is made from the carbon
of ancient trees
that did not decay to powder
that did not give way
to the tyranny of oxygen

to understand this subversive resistance
is to imprint the world
with images that give rise
to its beginning and its end
to understand is
to name the nameless


     4. I am here to wonder
to give up roots
to grow beyond expectation
to become both air and light
to retract, to retreat into density
to unfurl these twisting sinews
of thought

we are here to move
to be moved, we the half-lives, the past
an upturned tree with shallow roots
we emerge from the dark
reaching for light
our lives held up in the sun
like a great unlined hand

About the author

Sheree Renée Thomas

Sheree Renée Thomas is a Memphis-based award-winning short fiction writer, poet, and editor whose “black pot mojo” creative work explores ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. She is the author of Sleeping Under the Tree of Life (Aqueduct Press), honored with a Publishers Weekly Starred Review and longlisted for the 2016 James Tiptree, Jr. Award, and of Shotgun Lullabies (2011), described as “a revelatory work like Jean Toomer’s Cane.” Thomas edited the Dark Matter black speculative fiction volumes that won two World Fantasy Awards. She has been awarded fellowships from Bread Loaf Environmental, the Millay Colony of the Arts, VCCA, Blue Mountain Center, Art Omi/Ledig House, the New York Foundation of the Arts, and the Tennessee Arts Commission. Her work appears in numerous anthologies and literary journals, including FIYAH Magazine, Apex Magazine, Strange Horizons, Memphis Noir, So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy, Stories for Chip, Revise the Psalm, Jalada, An Alphabet of Embers, The Ringing Ear, Ghost-Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology, Blacktasticon, Mojo: Conjure Stories, Mojo Rising, Callaloo, and Harvard’s Transition. She is the Associate Editor of Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora (Illinois State University, Normal) and the founder of BSAM Memphis, a festival held in the historic South Main Arts District that celebrates Afrofuturism art, music, artivism, and scholarship.

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