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Heads Up poetry column: Our Tree

By Philip Appleman


Our Tree

When we dug it out, thirty summers back,

it wasn’t as thick as a wrist, but it was straight,

symmetrical: a hard maple

with good genes.

Small as it was, with its little world of dirt,

it took four of us to lug it back

along the river bank, to shade

the shy grass at a brand-new house.

Once in our ground, as the Bible says,

it was nothing but chattel:

we owned it.

Now paint is scabbing off the house,

and rust is cancer in the eaves again,

but the tree is tall and full

and tropically green. Two of us

who carried that sapling home

are underground forever; the other two

are going gray and making out their wills.

The maple sees it all: every year

it takes a deep breath, puffs

a thousand wings, and murmurs in the breeze:

There, you flesh-and-bloods who thought you owned me,

my seeds are dancing over fields and meadows,

and when you’re lying low and making earth,

I’ll send up sturdy shoots around your graves.

(New and Selected Poems, 1956–1966)