Heaven Tree

[Trout Hall, Jamaica, 1990]

We thought the unruly
Tree rose to heaven and back
Since we could barely see
Its tangled top mixed
With sky. The tree loomed larger
Than any mountain in the rear
Of the All Age School, shading
Half the property, its roots thicker
Than the bodies of goats tied
To them. We thought God
Had established the tree before Adam
And Eve. As far as we knew,
The tree didn’t have a name, an end
Or a beginning. Rumors
Claimed it contained snakes
And mystical beasts. Many kids
Had tried to climb it but no one’s
Courage had made it past the trunk. One
Sunday after church, I decided
To reach heaven. I made a ladder
With wind-chopped branches and scaled
The trunk. I didn’t want to return
To a place of fathers lost
To America. I hadn’t even said
Farewell to my mother, brother
And miserable sister. The tree
Sounded like an unpracticed
Choir as birds sang in disharmony
And shell-like dry fruits shook like church
Cymbals. As I climbed,
A pack of poor bullies gathered
At the trunk to tease and wish me
Goodbye. Girls swooned and I smiled,
Careful to shield my buckteeth
With wind-maddened leaves. The climbing
Was hell, the tree resisting
At every inch. I navigated branches
Plaited together, dead and alive.
I couldn’t wait to meet God
And his angels of candy voices. I didn’t
Fight snakes or beasts but I climbed past
Old shoes, cricket balls, dead birds,
Football-size nests of wasps
And ants. At the top, I took a profound
Breath and looked around. Clouds
Drooped like babies about to bawl. The sun
Bore down like an angry mother. Below,
The graves seemed whiter
Bracketed by waving
Canes and orange groves. I took in the blazing
Red roof and creamy walls of the Church
Of God where I had recently been
Baptized. My concrete house on concrete
Stilts looked about to fall. Cows gnawed
On as worshippers streamed home. The gully
Running dry as my faith in heaven
On earth.

Rayon Lennon was born in rural Jamaica; he moved to New Haven County, Connecticut,
United States of America when he was 13. He currently resides in New Haven, CT. He holdsa B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing from Southern Connecticut State University. He holds a master’s degree in Social Work. His work has been published widely in various literary magazines, including, The Main Street RagStepAway MagazineFolioThe Connecticut River Review, The African American ReviewNoctua ReviewThe Connecticut ReviewCallaloo and Rattle. His poems have won numerous poetry awards, including the 2017 Rattle Poetry Prize contest for his poem “Heard”; he won the Folio Poetry Contest for three consecutive years–2007, 2008, and 2009. He won the Noctua Review Poetry Contest in 2014 and 2015. He also won Rattle’s Poets Respond contest in 2015. His first book of poems, Barrel Children, was released in March, 2016, by Main Street Rag Publishing Company. Barrel Children was a finalist for the 2017 Connecticut Book Award for best poetry book. He is currently working on new collection of poems entitled Homeless at Home.