by Jennifer Hernandez

When the day came for Mom
to sell the terra cotta ranch house
built under the watchful eye
of my engineer father
(long before he moved out),
I drove on highway & gravel roads
the twenty minutes
from my college apartment
to say goodbye.

My bedroom — lime green shag &
lavender walls – was already empty,
the furniture having moved with me
into town. I stared out the window
into the backyard flood plain
down to the river where a neighbor boy
had drowned our first November
in the house, after sledding down the hill
onto too-thin ice.

I stepped out through the patio door,
drawn as always by the river,
the thin band of trees hugging its banks —
our forest — where we went to escape the adults.
I stopped at the river’s edge, watched currents swirl,
threw in a stick, watched it float downstream.
Then I walked to the base of my tree, two-by-fours
nailed like vertebrae
up the trunk.

I began to climb, anticipated the wiggle
of the second step, knew it would hold.
I pulled myself up until I reached
the round, thin sheet of plywood
fitted into the Y of the branches above.
My treehouse. I sat cross-legged —
nineteen years old — gazed out
across the river to another state,
comforted by the shush of wind,
green leaf canopy, birdsong, insect
chirps. Tears on my cheeks as I said
goodbye to my home, my childhood.

PHOTO: The author — and terrier/spaniel puppy Tacuache — with her Geo Spectrum loaded for a move from Culiacan, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas (1997).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I grew up in North Dakota, just across the Red River from Minnesota. During my twenties, I moved around a lot, including stints in England, Japan, and Mexico. Yet, when I sat down to write about a move, this is the one that swam to the surface. Curious, as I didn’t even technically live in the house any more, at least not full time. A couple of years ago, the house itself moved to a new location, as houses in my old neighborhood on the Red River became part of a flood buy-out program after too many epic floods in too few years.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Hernandez lives in the Minneapolis area where she teaches, writes, and dreams of open water. Her recent work has appeared in Mothers Always Write, Rose Red Review, and Silver Birch Press, as well as anthologies Bird Float, Tree Song (Silverton Books) and A Prince Tribute (Yellow Chair Press). She has performed her poetry at a nonprofit garage, a bike shop filled with taxidermy, and in the kitchen for her toughest audience – her children.