Sat 28 Jun 2008
it is dying, the little tree.
it is a clump birch, the smaller of the two that flank the lithe red maple in our backyard. we planted the three of them on Mother’s Day the year that Finn died, eight days after. his father dug the holes in the rain, i sprinkled some of his ashes in the mud. our parents gathered, and Dave’s sister and her husband and their baby, and my grandfather, and my mother’s friend who was once a minister, and he said a few words but nothing of god and i was grateful and stood like a stone, unweeping, unable to mourn what i could not yet believe was gone.
we called him Runt, when he was in utero…a pet name far more prescient than we’d ever dreamed, bestowed upon a seven week fetus we’d been told was lost, and then, miraculously, recovered. small, but strong, the Korean doctors said.
the little tree has been the runt of the three since the day we planted it.
but we have not been such good stewards to it, beyond that first summer. we are not gardeners, not so earth-connected, us, and though bits of watering and aerating have been done we have left it too dry, i realize now, for seasons on end, and pruned at the wrong times, and Dave tried to save it by butchering one and a half of its stalks this spring but the bugs have come and are eating it and there are pods i’ve never seen on its leaves, pods that have not touched the other, healthy birch, thriving twelve feet to one side.
last night in the late dark we wandered out to the yard. it is quiet there, in that back corner, and i let my mind play ahead brash with hope to two healthy living children playing in the shade of those three trees until i looked up at the sky and the vision was shattered by the silhouetted leaves of the runt tree, all full of holes like pinpricks, being eaten alive. and i knew, then, that there will not be three trees just as there will never be three children.
during WWII, Dylan Thomas wrote in the poem “A Refusal to Mourn the Death, By Fire, of a Child in London,” after the first death there is no other.
i know this tree is not my child. i know that the pests that feed upon its vulnerability are part of the natural order of things, that our neglect and hapless caretaking have not harmed the other two, that this small birch may simply have been weak, unfit, even. but it hurts, no less, to look upon this death, to watch this one more thing i could not nurture, did not protect from harm. and it will hurt, in the bittersweet way of blunt truth, to look into that corner of the yard in other summers and see two trees, one of each kind, their place in the yard forever slightly off-kilter without the invisible third to balance them. the shadow tree, the first planted, will remain only as a scar of what was once loved and hoped for, invested in.
when it is gone, i will not mourn the little tree, the runt…it will go as trees go, robed as we all must be eventually in “the long friends, the grains beyond age” that Thomas called up.
but he wrote of death as a done deal, the destruction complete. and when it is not, not yet, when the tree is still here and struggling, i mourn the runt and all it means to succumb again to the inevitability of its death. heartbroken by its small stripped branches, my veins sing with useless tears, with the helplessness of my hands as they flail against what i do not know how to stop.