WILD Fourth Place: Backlit Banyan by Markie Babbott
Inspired by “Backlit Banyan” by Sheila Wolff

BACKLIT BANYAN by Markie Babbott

Tender roots of Banyan are considered beneficial in the treatment of female sterility. These roots should be dried in the shade and finely powdered. This powder should be mixed 5 times its weight with milk and taken at night for three consecutive nights after menstruation cycle every month till conception takes place.

– Medicinal Use of Banyan Tree, Times of India



I sit, sit, sit in shade and powder. I drink five times my weight in milk
and take myself three consecutive nights. I prostrate, menstruate and obligate.
I bleed and scratch the bladeless soil under the backlit banyan where I sit
for thirty days and blood-moon nights, where I mix my weight with aerial roots
that fall from the sky. When dark, I climb them like an acrobat, dangle upside down
with taut thighs entangled as the roots cut into my ankles. I sway amidst
this upside down tree that continues to deny me a tender child,
tendril of every in-breath, sterile stench of every out-breath. Then each dawn,
I return to sit, to mortar and pestle these roots, to wrestle and resist
a dry womb, to wait another moon, to await some Lord. The macaque
and peacock mock and screech while a few tourists toss coins in my skirt.
But one woman sets up an easel, sketches outstretched branches,
mixes five shades of light with night, births the tree onto her canvas
and blends me into the trunk’s torso–
an epiphyte ready to seed.


Markie Babbott’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals, most recently The Apalachee Review, The Gettysburg Review, and The Louisville Review. She lives with her partner and children in the Connecticut River watershed where she volunteers with the local chapter of River of Words, a place-based program that integrates poetry, visual art and the environment (co-founded in 1997 by Robert Hass when US Poet Laureate).