564: Spell

564: Spell

564: Spell


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

For a while my mother was the caretaker of a 40-acre horse ranch that took in retired police horses and other wayward animals. I know she worked hard and for long hours, and she was good at it. The best part of that ranch was that it was full of good stories, those rare stories with happy endings. The goat that was abandoned at the high school for a senior class prank was now living a happy cantankerous life free to roam safely. The duck with the broken wing that always stuck out was named Amelia Earheart and was living her best ducky life.

I’d call from Seattle or New York, feeling full of my own type of city-born chaos and I’d just want to hear stories about the animals. A turtle returned to the reservoir, a donkey becoming best friends with the new retired police horse, an old goat who had seizures but would bounce right back. My mom would call it “his trick.” Even the animals seemed to know they landed in honey.

Those phone calls were the best because it felt like an idyllic world, and I knew it was the world my mother wanted to show me: A place where all the rescue animals could go and be safe.

Today’s generous poem shows us how sometimes things really do work out, and how sometimes that’s all our parents want us to know.

by Emma Hine

My mother calls to tell me a story.
She and my father were driving
on a mountain road, and all around,
the aspen trees were dying—
each one on the mountainside leafless,
clutching a sticky gold web in its branches
like it had caught a rotten cloud.
Where the road turned along a cliff
the guardrail was missing.
Far below, a red pickup truck
lay wedged between two rocks.
They got out their binoculars. The doors
were pinned shut. The paint was fresh.
It must, she says, have been two
hundred, three hundred feet down.
Phones didn’t work on the mountain.
They stood in the road for a moment
then got back in the car and drove away.
What else was there to do?
When they rounded the turns
they were careful. When they found
a gas station they told the cashier
what they’d seen. He laughed,
said the truck had crashed a year ago, 
but was too far down the gorge
to pull back up. He’d been working
the night it happened. No headlights, 
no motor, then suddenly, a woman
laced with scratches walked in from the road.
She’d climbed out the rear windshield
and scrambled downhill. Then
my father asked, What’s going on
with the aspens? So the cashier
told them about the webworms
and the trees. The aspens only look
dead, he said, because their branches
have been chewed clean. When the air
goes cold, the worms will drop
to the ground and cocoon there,
and in spring, moths will fly up
from the dirt. And this is the world
my parents are finally proud to give me,
here in a tale where everybody lives:
a red truck in flight over a mountain,
landing gently; moths about to open
like white flowers; empty-handed
trees about to fill again with leaves.

"Spell" by Emma Hine, from STAY SAFE by Emma Hine, copyright © 2021. Used by permission of Sarabande Books.