(August 5, 1950 / Illinois)

An Arbor

The world's a world of trouble, your mother must
have told you
that. Poison leaks into the basements

and tedium into the schools. The oak
is going the way
of the elm in the upper Midwest—my cousin

earns a living by taking the dead ones
And Jason's alive yet, the fair-

haired child, his metal crib next
to my daughter's.
Jason is one but last saw light five months ago

and won't see light again.


Leaf against leaf without malice
or forethought,
the manifold species of murmuring

harm. No harm intended, there never is.
The new
inadequate software gets the reference librarian

fired. The maintenance crew turns off power one
and Monday the lab is a morgue: fifty-four

rabbits and seventeen months of research.
Ignorance loves
as ignorance does and always

holds high office.


Jason had the misfortune to suffer misfortune
the third
of July. July's the month of hospital ro-

tations; on holiday weekends the venerable
stay home.
So when Jason lay blue and inert on the table

and couldn't be made to breathe for three-and-a-
quarter hours,
the staff were too green to let him go.

The household gods have abandoned us to the gods
of juris-
prudence and suburban sprawl. The curve

of new tarmac, the municipal pool,
the sky at work
on the pock-marked river, fatuous sky,

the park where idling cars, mere yards
from the slide
and the swingset, deal beautiful oblivion in nickel

bags: the admitting room and its stately drive,
of the town's best view.


And what's to become of the three-year-old brother?
When Jason was found
face down near the dogdish—it takes

just a cupful of water to drown—
his brother stood still
in the corner and said he was hungry

and said that it wasn't his fault.
No fault.
The fault's in nature, who will

without system or explanation
make permanent
havoc of little mistakes. A natural

mistake, the transient ill-will we define
as the normal
and trust to be inconsequent,

by nature's own abundance soon absorbed.


Oak wilt, it's called, the new disease.
Like any such
contagion—hypocrisy in the conference room,

flattery in the halls—it works its mischief mostly
The men on the links haven't noticed

yet. Their form is good. They're par.
The woman who's
prospered from hating ideas loves causes

instead. A little shade, a little firewood.
I know
a stand of oak on which my father's

earthly joy depends. We're slow
to cut our losses.

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