Modesto ash

Jan Haag teaches journalism and creative writing at Sacramento City College where she is the chair of the journalism department and advises student publications. She is the author of Companion Spirit, a collection of poems about her husband’s death at the age of 48, published by Amherst Writers & Artists Press. She leads writing groups in Sacramento where the topic of grief and loss often arises. Read more of her beautiful writing here.

The neighbor has been telling me for two years,
That tree is dead,
and for two years, I’ve thought
Whaddya mean? There are leaves on that tree;
it just needs a little pruning.

But I’ve had my doubts since the messy
mistletoe began threading through slender branches
like tangled hair, more obvious in winter
when the ash tree stands naked
and a bit crooked, as old things do.

The tree man who came agreed
the old ash needed to come down –
not dead but dying, he said,
scattering phrases like
end of its life
how old? 30 years?
that’s its lifespan,

and I stood there thinking,
but you planted that tree
the month after we moved in
it can’t be three decades, can it?
You dug the hole in the front yard
because who in this city of trees
does not have a tree in the front yard?

We watered it, tended it and watched
it grow, first taller than me, then taller
than you, reaching skyward, a perch
for the annoying blue jay that dive bombed
the cats, a shady shelter for the dog
as he laid under it chewing a soft toy,
later just watching the world go by
when he could no longer be part of it.

And that’s the thing – we all have lifespans,
you, the dog, trees,

and now a puffy pile of ash shavings sits
where our tree grew and lived and died.

The day it came down piece by massive piece
you appeared as you often do in a dream,
whispering, gingko – you love the gingko.

I awoke with your voice and, because it is the time
of year when small green fans on slender trees
have gone gold and fluttered to the ground,
the ends of their little lives, I walked down
the street to admire the neighbors’ gingko
to retrieve some leaves from the yellow carpet
on the grass, twirl the fans that remind me
of summer between my fingers,

remembering that the people who lived
in that house when we moved here
are, like you, gone, that new people
live there now,

that I can hold these departures in my heart
along with a baby tree I will plant in the spring
in the middle of our front yard, small and slender
at first, a quiet time capsule destined,
with luck, to sprout tiny green fans
that will turn gold and fall every fall,
spinning their sweet pirouettes
as they twirl all the way down.

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