Something to Hold Onto

The tree we buried you under was the last of its kind—

     a lone birch or oak or maple that survived its disease

          (I found the irony only because I was looking for it)

    and now stands watch over a pasture and a farmhouse

       that will always be two hundred years older than everything else in the world.


You drew a picture of that tree when you were twelve years old,

     All soft lines and bright skies

          (back then color was still a freedom to throw on a canvas and take you away from the rest of the world)

     It was an abstract, you said, a background of fruity skies

          that would never have passed over the sky in the field in life

               but your imagination was always as wild as the rainbows that used to silhouette the top of that hill.


I used to climb it, when I was younger,

     back when I wouldn’t crack its limbs and

          my small body could still fit through the convolutions of branches and twigs,

               when I was strong enough to pull myself through to the top of the world and meet the sun atthe edge of the world.


After the ceremony,

     after everyone sprinkled your ashes from the ornate wooden box we were keeping you in,

           after the gray dust sank into the wet soil and the rain washed away the smell of fire,

                after the sorrows and stories and simple memories were told,

           I sat with the tree and cried with the fields and the sky and the red farmhouse you painted when you were nineteen.


And once it was all said and done,

     far after there were no tears left to cry

          and the paintings of fields and skies and red farmhouses were hung in living rooms

I found a picture of you and that tree.


You were maybe eight,

     still too young to worry about death and disease but old enough to know it existed.

     You were sitting by the lowest branch—

          where you taught me to pull myself into the tree’s embrace

   —reading a book about loneliness.


There was a rainbow in the backdrop,

     (if I hadn’t known any better, I would have thought you painted it)

And the sky was all blues and grays and yellows and reds.

     the red farmhouse in the distance held its doors open to the world

          and the fields blew with invisible wind,


               and it looked like the cover of a book that you once taught me to read.


This poem is about: 
My family


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