Heads Up poetry column: Our Tree
By Philip Appleman
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)