Haunted Oak in Winter

for John Crawford, III

Pray why are you so bare, so bare,
Oh, bough of the old oak-tree;
And why, when I go through the shade you throw,
Runs a shudder over me?
—Paul Laurence Dunbar

I step on shards of acorn shell and pray
my skin hasn’t broken. Squirrels wonder why
I’m naked and ill-prepared while they are
ready. They don’t know about you
or haunted oaks. So
they nest in the nook of my patio roof. I’m bare-
foot and solemnly aware. My so-
le hurts. No, the skin hasn’t broken; I’m bare-

ly breathing these days. Too often I hold my breath. Oh,
sighs escape, a release valve of sorts. The bough
bends as though it has been stripped of
invisible weight. Nature’s the-
atrics begin. Starlings by the thousands weigh the old
branches down. They swarm the oak-tree

only to light again. Overhead a black cloud waving and-
ante, seems never-ending. Why, why
these cycles? Sunlight is a mockery when
the days are so short and the nights so long. I
stand barefoot hoping the cold go-
ads my body to sense something through
these dim days constantly turning toward night. The
winds name our ancestors, the ones who illuminate shade.
But is the calling too late for you
and maybe me? I throw

a glance at the space left by a squirrel who scrambles
to the very end of the strongest branch
then leaps onto my porch gutter.

A shudder runs over me.

about the author
Furaha Henry-Jones is an associate professor of English at Sinclair Community College, where she also serves as director of the Sinclair Writers’ Workshop. Furaha has spent the past 20 years working in public high schools and prisons, GED programs and college composition courses, charter schools for out-of-school youth, and migrant education programs. Her poetry is intended for both written and oral interpretation, and she has presented as a University of Dayton LitFest Keynote Speaker, Herndon Gallery Featured Artist and Dayton Slam Featured Poet. Her latest work has required her to listen more closely to words left by the ancestors, to consider the legacy we are leaving our children, and to grapple with our responsibilities in movements toward change.

about the poem
This poem was written early last winter in memory of John Crawford, III, and is part two of a three-part musical and poetic collaboration with musician G. Scott Jones entitled Boiling Point. The language and sentiment of the poem was also inspired by ancestor Paul Laurence Dunbar, whose poem “The Haunted Oak” speaks to lynching during his time.