Looking Out Your Window, I Remember the Oak Tree Which Is Now Only a Ghost

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.


Mia Ayumi Malhotra is a Kundiman and VONA/Voices Fellow. Her poems have appeared in Mid-American Review, Drunken Boat, Greensboro Review, Best New Poets, and elsewhere. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.