Heather Treseler

Daphne on Being Wood

I never meant it to be permanent: this body-house

    of wood, this foliating iron lung, these brachia


of branched leaves that were my exeunt and leave-taking.

    I did not intend to remain a tree forever: perhaps


for one or two eras of Apollo’s high-octane testosterone,

    the nymph mania that sparks in men between


a spendthrift prime and newborn, mid-aged fear of death.

    Cycles of tumescence spin longer among the gods;


there is no one rutting season, so a girl must be keen

    to spot the symptoms: late-night fist fights,


musky smells, predawn prowls of car parks and beaches,

    sardine and tuna cans wrenched open and strewn


in the strangest of places. Apollo was the worst: he stank

    of horse dung and char, stood squinting at the sky,


wizened like a bathhouse lecher aged light years by sun

    and salt, seasonal orgies of ale and tail. Too old to be


a beach boy, but inflamed by a gold-tipped arrow wedged

    slightly south of his cock, he chased me like a thing


possessed of divine selfishness. He didn’t know Peneus,

    my father, had taught me to run, honing my flight instinct


until I’d won the local miler by twenty yards. I didn’t know

    I couldn’t outrace a god. When I felt Apollo’s breath


scorch the valley of my neck with his back alley intention,

    when he sped in reach of my disheveling hair, hunting


me to some duck blind or grove of desolation, I saw already

    the scene he intended. I caught the gibbous moon’s gleam


in his teeth. I screamed out prayers, pleas and imprecations.

    Then, miraculous change was wrought in me. Stunned,


I felt my womb fall to my feet and score its roots in earth;

    my legs filled to one solid girth, grooving to papery bark;


my arms sprung open like spontaneous umbrellas. I writhed

    like Sibyl nearing prophecy, but my wail was walled


into a muteness beyond wonder: no longer had I mouth

    or face. My features receded into whorls of wood,


an astigmatic grain in the rings of surprise that wrung

    through what had been my body, piercingly hot


then chill, my blood changing to a pulpy sap burbling

    in my veins. I thought, peering up at my rooftop


 of leaves, I had become an oak, sycamore or elm. I didn’t

    learn who I was until spring when they called me


laurel and spoke in hushed suspicious tones of great change,

    the tragedies of girlish stubbornness, as if escape ever


required less than total transformation. As if, born woman,

    I hadn’t been made to suffer ritual perils in escape,


hydraulic power of beauty and its maturation, fevered desire

    in others and in myself, my reluctant coda of resistance.


Mortals wish to unwound themselves of time, forgetting

    clocks bring anguish to just ends, even such occasions


of too much happiness, unbridling joy. The morning after

    I evaded my captor, I stretched my new several feet


and gangly toes into cooling loam, girlhood’s sweetly

    rotting body changed to a joke on permanence:


a woman in her prime, immured in the live mausoleum

    of a tree. Without choice, I found my volition.


My limbs now crown runners and rhetoricians, laureates

    and long-legged, those who track truths over distance,


distressing the romance that all are born to themselves,

    foremost and free: those who remember a girl, Daphne.









“Daphne on Being Wood” first appeared in The Missouri Review, Spring 2017, Volume 40, No. 1.