He feels for the roots
pushing cracked, lined hands through the soft dirt.
He removes the intruding hedge’s dark knots
to spare the thin struggle of a tree.
He wants assurance
that his new lady is the right choice.
He rolls a stone into place while
the earth turns on its axis.
I think of the farm my partner and I didn’t buy,
how we came to this house with no curtains instead.
The landscaper wants to know
if he will be a good parent.
The air smells of dislodged spearmint
and crushed lavender.
The blood blister on his palm swings skyward
as he cups a drooping branch and clips it off.
He does it over and over, the swinging and cupping.
What would mean “I don’t know” in my hands
is a pruning ballet in his,
the tall tree an answer.
I think of the child we didn’t adopt,
of her photo in the book: Kristy.
She had so many letters: ADHD, ODD, PTSD.
My lover couldn’t see the girl
in the forest of letters.
Next spring’s seed catalog lies on the seat
of the landscaper’s truck in the driveway;
a diagram of next year’s garden takes shape in his mind.
He hurries to lay gravel and sand
but loses to the rotation of the earth.
“Want to save this nest for your daughter?” he asks,
laying it carefully on the porch steps.
The daughter we did adopt.
The one to whom I am a good parent
most of the time,
alone in this house.
“Yes,” I say. Yes to the lady, the good
parenthood, the nest. Yes to the removal of roots
that held nothing so strongly that a mistake
couldn’t make it all fall down.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
A tree isn’t “tall” except in relation to us,
who are “short.” The heart of a hummingbird
fills the world. Try
to apply this principle to loved ones
who shrink with age,
slow down and speed up according to
the weather, forget where things
are but remember how things were,
what it was like in Columbus Grove, Ohio,
how to tie a clove hitch, or a sheet bend,
but who’s that asking am I all right
and can I tell her who she is?
I’m anonymous as winter and twice as old
and she could be too—what’s the point of telling her
anything? It’s a red and black flannel shirt
with little rips in the shoulders
and soft threads that hang from the cuffs,
brushing against me like second thoughts.
THE WOMAN WHO FELL INTO DISREPAIR
forgets that parts of her
that other parts once
angled for attention
she took time
as if it couldn’t be bent, flattened, eliminated, reordered
as if it was matter
as if it mattered
as if it could be compressed or exploded, colored in, Photoshopped out
with her everywhere,
twin burdens slung from a yoke
she ignored the warnings all around
the flags, sirens, scars, flashing
beacons, allergic reactions, slaps on the
cheek, fullness, emptiness, the color red,
the lack of color
she had let it go let it all go let it go let the cells
puff up or fall where they would into the cracks in her arms and legs
over the dents in her lips through the tunnels in her scalp
into the empty spaces she’d forgotten
a landfill of woman
a historical dustbin
an entire lost tribe
too remote and ugly to signify