Elegy to a Maple

Going home this summer, I found the fence torn down halfway along itself, the same fence that divided our yard from the neighboring plant nursery – that I climbed over on one particular night with a childhood friend, and we wandered through an acre of potted trees taller than us and startled wild rabbits and I distinctly remember looking up at the stars, and in the veiled night felt the air of magic that children feel before they become adults and enchantment becomes something entirely different. And this night is what inspired Girls in the Garden, which is about trespassing onto another’s property after hours but is also very certainly about more than that.

And so last summer, upon returning to my childhood home during the same month we signed over our family’s property of 30 years to a land developer, I walked through the opening in this newly fallen fence and further into my backyard than I had been in years, to an aged and giant maple that like the next door garden I once personified into a friend, and in my memory still do, but at the time of this writing I don’t believe the tree still stands.

On this day I approached my Giant Maple Tree with hesitation, and I believe this is why: sometimes we wait to touch something that is good, because the sooner something begins, the sooner it also ends.

But of course I did touch it, because that is why I went to see it: to say goodbye. I put my palms on its moss-grown bark in the way a daughter touches a parent who is soon to die. I did not want to take my hands away.

I put my forehead against its trunk, the way a tired woman leans her face into a man’s shoulder. Who comforts who in this moment I do not know, but would like to believe it can go both ways, whether you are a woman or a man or a tree. Regardless, I did not want to take my face away.

I asked that they wait until I leave – until I flew home – to cut it down. Who wants to watch death.

The boating ropes we’d tied to it more than twenty years earlier were still wrapped around the trunk the day I pulled out of the driveway and watched my childhood home and the Giant Maple Tree disappear as we drove up the hill to the airport. Those ropes, once upon a time, at one end held the seat of a swing where my younger self would sit and sing as loudly as I wanted on the back half-acre.

By now the ropes must be gone, and of course, the tree too. Now I hold in my memory the branch that, for the span of at least one childhood, supported a comfortable swing for a young and awkward girl who for many years believed in the magic of her yard.

And now I must turn my face from its shoulder. Now, I have taken my hands away.

Standard

Innateness

Even in moments you point and announce
that is the North Star” clearly, but I do not
know up from down from east from west,
night from dawn from good decision or not,
even in this spinning compass confusion
the truth of ourselves it spills forth
seeps into stories as the sea to old boats
says remember that you are in my grasp
and without needing directions
nor want for light on the harbor
the animal innateness of ourselves
in the way gravity is never not there
finds the way to show itself

Standard

Weeks or Months

How long will it be?
We have been watching the moon
which waxes and wanes and
renews itself and brings,
usually, decent fortune

We have boarded the plane
taken seats by the window
settled in for a movie
preparation is done

I read the journal back to front,
an order that makes sense
to a brain most intent
on knowing endings

How long now?
Until life has changed enough that
the current era is only seen by
standing at the window,
looking through a glass

Standard

The Community Garden

It is not what you expect to find
after trekking uphill five blocks
in the Japanese District after a
hot day in the city. It smells like
compost tumbling over itself
here on the side of the hill,
is strewn together good enough
with spare wood, multi-multi-use
buckets and laminated signs
some person with a printer
tacked to tree trunks to guide
visitors toward an exit; yes,
wabi-sabi enough to get lost.
It is how we ran our land when
I was young, making do with
parts of things and scraps and
pieces of other things. I forget
the city outside. Chicken coop
signs (please do not feed us rice),
sunflowers grown beyond a
hand’s span whose peach fuzz
necks bow to watch weeds sustain
this morsel of wild in the city,
now I barefoot along stone steps,
toe my way down the other side,
find a sitting-rock in the orchard
and do that a while among this
stench of four-days-fallen apples
and flies on a summer afternoon
and when I am done scribbling
memories search for more to do,
for more to think about, perhaps
another reason to stay put.

(August 27, 2019)

Standard

Returning Home

I haven’t seen you with your hair down
parted middle, pulled behind your ears
in a while – you’ve been away and the
roof is crumbling and a decade is gone.

See how the grass has grown up wildly
and now we have to lift our legs high
to carefully meander through; thank you
for never complaining about dandelions.

Have you opened your upstairs closet?
You’ll want to fasten a ponytail for this:
when you left were you running toward
or away and is that why you rarely wrote?

Home again. Our front window is broken.
This is and isn’t the right time to review a
former life and old limbs trimmed so you
could flourish year-round away from me.

For thirty years I watched you, held you.
There is no surprise within my pine walls
to see you grown, waving new branches,
but you did return, if only to say goodbye.

(August 18, 2019)


Standard

Sylvia

You and your cocker spaniel
and when Erin passed, the spaniel
that you owned after her.

The dam and her filly who,
as a young girl, I would clap beside
the fence to see her run.

Once your husband passed
and you could no longer care for
the horses, you kept goats.

Two maybe three years ago
I was home and walked over and
found you remembered me.

Everything around you had gone
to the ground, except the plants
springing up from your yard.

As I grew into a woman you became
just Sylvia, living in the last home
on acreage in the neighborhood.

I sent a Winnie-the-Pooh card
the Christmas after I’d seen you.
No reply was received.

Then I dreamed of you. It happens
in my family when time closes; I will
check when I return home again.

(August 4, 2019)

Standard