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From a distance it looked like ordinary wood, a snuff-colored twig

one might rake for burning. Surfaced by the bulldozer

from a sarcophagus of clay, it could have been the brittle finger-bone of a prophet, or a

phalange of an extinct ape from another age. Black spruce, the geologist says,

buried by the last glacier budging across Illinois. The branch lies cool

against the palm. You count the rings in cross-section: fourteen. One for each

millennia the tree was a secret no one knew to tell. You feel a rush of centuries

receding and for a moment stand among its antecedents. The conifer reaches for thin blue sky, breathes

air full of promise. In the silhouette you see a tree waiting for December.