Volume 28, Number 3

The Tree

They lived in my neighborhood.
The fire wouldn't even come close.
But there they were on TV, cutting down
the lone oak tree in their gravel-scaped
front yard because the flames might leap
from the branches to the shingled roof
of their rented duplex. The woman spoke
to the camera of their preventive industry
while her grown son, sweating into a red
bandanna, sawed away at the regal oak.
And some long-forgotten anger
smoldered inside me. I don't know why,
thirteen years later, I'm thinking about them.
It wasn’t even a eucalyptus, all parchment and oil,
like the one that shaded my porch, the one
that would most certainly go up before
their thick oak took a light. But the fire
never even jumped the highway.

Today, the canyon's green from all the winter rain.
My mother just left after staying with us
for a week. I told my husband not to ask,
but of course he did. I really didn’t want to know
how she voted. I said that my friend Caroline
reduced this whole mess to a handful of words:
The Russians tricked the rednecks.
And my mom winced a bit at that, the way
I used to shrink when she’d pick me up from school
in the old Monte Carlo with no right fender.
On TV, a man’s being dragged off a plane,
and the bombs we knew would drop are dropping now.
There’s a kernel of meanness in my heart today, a resurrected
rage, though I can’t trace back this thought to where
it forked off to those yokels looking down at a pile
of felled branches, their job half-done—
the handsaw wouldn’t cut the trunk—
but they knew a guy who’d loan them a power saw
to bring down what was left of the tree.

—Jackleen Holton Hookway