These trees are about to explode. Every
year I attempt to catch the moment and
every year I miss it. This year, outside
in the yard every day, time to kill, I
look up to see what’s happening. They’re close
to leafing, I can almost hear it. You
can see, in some of them, little clusters
of stuff beyond branches, not yet leaves, but
something like that, fit to burst. I love these
trees. In the spring and in the summer I
love them, but in and around October
we are buried and it takes us sometimes
until the end of the year to dig out from
under. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
(after Mary Oliver)
I’m sitting in the office space
that adjoins my classroom
while my student teacher is
wrangling with a group of freshmen,
and I am thinking about my oak trees.
In this stark, small, white room, lit
with florescent tube lights, desk
littered with papers, student work to
grade, a stack of books about teaching,
and a small library of poetry,
I’m thinking about my oak trees.
Early April and the leaves have
not yet emerged from their hiding
places but it’s so close now I can
almost hear their rustling even
from where I sit in this sterile office.
The evidence of last year’s performance
is everywhere: the grass turned to moss,
the moss turned to mud from the
excessive rains, the grass again
doing its level best to recover this
month, to flourish in May, only to
brown out in July and August
and then once again in the fall
to be buried with oak leaves,
leaves that refuse composting,
leaves that never deteriorate,
leaves that must be removed
if one wants to prevent their
absolute dominion over the ground.
Somehow it seems wrong, unjust,
our battle with the leaves and the trees.
They were here first, especially
these oaks, long before the roads,
the houses, the streetlights,
long before there was such a thing
as a driveway or a lawn.
In spring and early summer these
trees give us the shade, the green,
an ecosystem, an entire universe
hovering above our heads, a
sustaining, life-giving thing.
In return, we feel it necessary
in the fall to dig out from
underneath this bounty.
Here I am, though, now,
in my office lit with this
terrible light, in my head
a slight ache from the eye
strain, and I think of my trees,
and all of us
waiting for the leaves again.
The yard, my trees, this very afternoon.
I’ve taught inside a classroom without windows
for twenty-seven years.
On the one hand, my work is done on the page
and in the mind and with words moving through
space between people in a room;
through imagination and through language
we bring the outside in.
And yet, on the other hand, if I allow
myself to think about how many hours
of my life I have spent in total blindness
to what’s happening outdoors, I cringe,
A little insurrection occurs inside the heart.
Perhaps my hesitance even on the nicest spring days
to take students outside is the subconscious way I have
of making them experience 4 hours a week
for a semester what I have experienced my entire
professional life. See how they like it.
Only now after so many years in the dark
do I feel the injustice of this.
At home, though, the oak trees tower over
the yard and the house and the driveway.
I count twenty of the giants, recently pruned,
looking none the worse for wear, and in April,
ready to burst forth with their abundance.
There are no sheep in my yard and I am
certainly no shepherd. This is suburbia.
For so long I railed against it, but I look up
at these trees, zero in on half a dozen
distinct bird languages, the squirrels wreak
havoc on the feeders, the bees begin to buzz,
the ants march, ripeness is all, and I feel
at home, in a place where I belong,
in nature, albeit, 500 feet from cars
speeding up and down our road far beyond
the 30 miles per hour limit, and the kids and stupid
people who occasionally throw their fast food
garbage into the ditch. Yesterday, my wife
found a computer there, buried in the weeds.
I look back up at the trees and hear them laughing.
They will outlive us all–or they could–provided that
whoever lives here keeps shepherding their lives.
Right now, that’s me. And despite
the sometimes darkness of my classroom,
at home, I’m fine, making up for lost time.
On the Eve of Our 27th Wedding Anniversary
Earlier today we looked at each other
and kind of shrugged. What do you want to do?
I don’t know. How about you?
Should we get a sitter and go out or should
we do a special thing as a family?
Let’s do the special thing as a family.
Yeah, that would be better. So, what should we do?
Still partially undecided,
our 27th wedding anniversary plans
will wait until tomorrow to solidify.
She’s putting the boy to bed
and I’m drinking a bourbon in the backyard
thinking about the solidity of a marriage.
Events or circumstances have at times
conspired against it, storms came through.
There were blissful days and torturous ones
and sometimes those days, both blissful and torturous,
turned into months,
once or twice they became years.
Our marriage, tank-like, a fortress,
has withstood it all, and we are practically
the only living couple I know who have lasted as long.
I’m not bragging. We were and remain lucky and committed.
We live on a property covered with these majestic,
ancient oak trees and when the weather is bad
sometimes large limbs fall into the yard, the driveway,
impale themselves into the soft winter dirt, but
yesterday, one fell, on a perfect summer day,
directly across the drive. They call them widow-makers,
and for good reason, because if I had been under it,
even if sheltered inside a car, I think I would right now
be a dead husband and my wife would be a widow.
We know we need to talk to a tree person.
What I’m trying to say is this (there’s a metaphor
at work here so bear with me):
It’s us against the oaks. They’re going to try to outlive us
like they will outlive all the other tenants of this place,
and they might succeed. They may also try to kill one of us.
But we’re going to talk to a tree person and between now
and the time when we can afford to have the work done
we’ll be on our guard against heavy falling branches.
And despite the fact that neither one of us has huge plans
for the big day tomorrow, we know something good will happen,
as we know there will many more anniversaries,
some with really important even numbers
attached to them, some for which we will throw
huge parties, probably all the way until
the year we die or one of us is killed by a falling limb.