Unseasonably warm on this 26th of April, 86° in the shade, giving new meaning to “the cruelest month” moniker, and I’m biking home from work, still in work clothes, feeling myself try to crawl out of them, the sun beating down on my back as I pedal home. It’s a short ride, but long enough. My heart beats a little faster than it normally does as I pedal into the drive. I put the bike away, drink a tall glass of sparkling water with a tinge of lemon and let the dogs outside. They run in circles, bite at each other, eat sticks and clods, dig holes in the rich spring dirt, bark at nothing. She sends me a text: a picture of these blue bird feathers she found today in the sawdust, a poetry prompt, she said. Spring time carnage. I’d forgotten to tell her about yesterday’s discovery in the gravel driveway: a decapitated bird head, covered with flies, still attached to a spine four or five inches long. Nothing else left. I didn’t take a picture of that. Too small to smell the rot, but as I scoop it up with the shovel, a memory of the smell of animal death visits briefly, and I toss the thing unceremoniously into the trash. It’s difficult and kind of terrifying to imagine what must have happened while no one was looking. A neighborhood cat maybe, or those damn crows, too smart for their own good, they say. Everything blooms. Everything dies. Look at these bluebells cropping up like weeds, these pink things, these sweet, spicy lilac flowers. Smell the sawdust in your fingers as you pick through in your gloves to remove the dead bird feathers. And today, and yesterday, Wordsworth and Shelley both sang “Mutability” to my 10th graders. They understood.
Mid April, that Japanese maple explodes first with leaves and the giant oak trees follow its little footsteps a few weeks later. It all happens at once. Most years no one sees it. One day there are no leaves. Next day a million leaves. The grass greens. There’s a hammock sometimes to nap in and those darn squirrels are at the bird feeders at all hours. In the distance there, beyond the road, there used to be four solitary homes, also covered in green. They were also hard to see, hiding, blending in as if they belonged there. In this old photo, the roofline of one juts out from under the greenery. But while the blooming of the front yard appears to occur overnight, the disappearing of old homes, rentals, the removal of all that vegetation, and the building of new roads, new lines for water, sewer, gas, and electricity, and thirty-two new houses, these things take years, so that, without photographic evidence, it is hard to remember or imagine how different things used to be in those greener, quieter days.
A story erased
so that new ones can replace
and then germinate.
(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.
Wandering around in the yard
looking up at these gigantic oaks,
bare branches, April, too early for new leaves.
It may rain.
Neighbors getting their mow on,
blowing the last vestiges of winter
out of their driveways and flowerbeds.
My own lawn, freshly mowed.
If it were warmer and dry
I might be lying in the grass,
kicking a ball around with my boy,
or batting the badminton birdy
back and forth for the record,
but it’s cold and kind of damp.
He’s inside watching cartoons,
she’s inside writing songs,
and I’m outside looking up at trees.
I’ll go in soon, play some drums,
sing a song or two,
write a poem.
Tonight, friends visit.
If every day could be like this one,
there’d be no need for weekends.
This is what we need.
No hurry. No anxiety.
Inclination and time to do things we love.
Look up at the trees.
Notes: I finished this perfect day poem just in time to discover the boy is running a fever and the friends won’t be visiting after all. Made me not want to post this piece–just because, you know, it no longer rang true, disappointed as we all are to be sick and to have to miss out on seeing some friends we haven’t seen in a while. Well, it could be worse–he could be sicker. Those songs might not have been written. And this poem–I can read the poem and go to that place again. There’s always those trees, and the friends will come another day.