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Selection 14 of

The Oak

by Nancy Clark
Two human lifetimes old, or more,
This oak, just one of hundreds else
Deep rooted in the forest soil
Once grew from new, its first full leaf
Unseen, its foliaging alone.

In time came claimers of the land
With plans and markers, shovels, saws.
The forest yielded, till the tree
Shared space with houses, roads with curbs
And lawns and poles with wires and lights.

A grace of nature in our yard,
This oak held place as centerpiece.
Our lives were always full of leaves
And limbs in seasons' dances rocked
With raindrops, winds, and blowing snow.

Its trunk of ample girth set stage
For us to see the scamperings
Of fat brown squirrels, watch creepers climb,
Woodpeckers work, and flickers dart,
Performers on the crusty bark.

A feeder from its lowest limb
We filled with bread and nuts and seeds
That drew the fussing gangs of sparrows,
Pompous crows, bright cardinals,
And wary squirrels with bushy tails.

The pulse of spring would once more bring
The "leafing out," protruding buds
Unfolding into wide clean green,
All perfect leaves, and acorn seeds
Would drop like marbles on the lawn.

Each year the white spring beauties made
A ruffled skirt around its trunk.
Above, the summer's wealth of leaves
Shed sunshine for our welcome shade
And turned to brittle in the fall.

The winds that sifted through our window
Blew as well about our tree.
We shared the place, the air, the breath.
A common thread of spirit circled
Through us and our sturdy oak.

As we looked out to share its life,
It also gazed inside at us.
It watched the child grow up, the dog
Grow old, the table set for every meal,
Watched lights go off at time to sleep.

Beneath its gaze we mowed the grass,
We shoveled snow and raked its leaves.
It watched the people come and go.
The children dressed for trick-or-treat,
Saw Santa Claus come up the walk.

One April as the forest woke,
A creeping sense of absence made
Me stop to study, touch its branches.
Barren limbs! The "leafing-out"
Had failed to come on time with spring.

Gone dead. Gone numb to flowing, stroking
Spring. Denied its drink, as if
A thief beneath the earth had drained
Its water trough and then to bear
Indignity of nakedness.

No slow and gradual demise,
Just gone, a standing skeleton
Like ruin of a cathedral spire
In silence offering wordlessly
A prayer to finish vanishing.

Then came the men who felled the oak
Who cut and hauled it all away
While we were gone, and smoothed the lawn.
The wind blew in, no bond to share,
And we were left confronting air.


Selection 14 of

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Copyright © 2001 by Nancy Clark. All rights reserved.