The year you were born, they tore down the oak
tree behind our building. I saved a branch
to remember it by, then the cherry-pickers
came with men in orange vests and hard hats,
and, for five days, the air filled with sawdust,
the sound of wood giving way to metal.
They cut it in parts: first the topmost branches,
then, in sections, the larger limbs. The trunk
they saved for last, then excised in chunks
which thudded to the ground to be mulched.
Last went the roots, dug up from soil.
Midway through, the men stopped work
to circle the stump, which oozed black sap.
Sometimes I forget what the tree actually looked like,
a patchwork of green and gold shimmering
like a live field outside your window.
At bedtime, we lie and watch paper fish
drift in steady orbits overhead, stirred
by summer breeze. I’m not sure you remember
the oak. How it felt, knowing it would be cut,
that each moment it remained came measured
from a miser’s bank account. How to explain
the need to hold, to make it last. Each night
before bed, you lean over the rim of your plastic tub
to inspect the faucet, body twisted into a tiny
question mark. You slap the water, palms flashing,
face split with delight as the surface erupts in
a spray of silver. How many more moments
like this do I get? It’s when I’ve scooped you
out of the tub, turned the water down
the drain that I miss you most. I fold you
in terrycloth, press my cheek to yours
and see, in the mirror, your warm face,
towel-tousled, spangled with wet lashes.
How I ache. Unbearably, impossibly happy.