The Trees in Riverdale Park

Diagonal paths quadrisect a square acre
white as the page in February.

From the soil of this basic geometry
ash, elm, and maple flourish like understandings
whose bare logics are visible,
understandings the theorem has allowed.

Between roam bodies of the sensible world:
people, dogs, all those lovers
of the material and immaterial

illumined, as under working hypotheses,
by sodium bulbs whose costly inefficiencies
Los Angeles and Philadelphia have apparently
moved on from.

The trees are grand hotels closed for the season.
But belowground, social life is taking place.

As when snow lay on the fields
and people descended to rec rooms, secret bars
like the Snake Pit in the basement of the curling rink
in Golden Prairie. Our big Ford nosing the siding,

we waited for our parents with the engine running,
under grave instruction

as radio sent our autonomy bounding toward us,
chilling scenarios inspired by the trucking forecast
and news items from Great Falls or Bismarck
freely imagined, songs that gave us bad ideas
and the seeds of a mythology. Ten minutes,

then one hour, two,
pop and chips and the gift of the periphery.

I've never understood what "starlit" means.

Even on a clear night in their millions
they cast no discernible light
into the dark expanse where a farmhouse gestured weakly

and grid roads and bullshit caragana disappeared,
where the animals' lives played out,
smells travelling slowly, low to the ground.

In Riverdale Park the diagonal walks like diagrams
may be said to describe themselves,
which is a relief.

Now snow is blowing through the theorem
that the understandings broadly accommodate
and sensible bodies adjust their collars to,

and even bare spots left by departed cars evidence
how the outlines of loss might gradually alter

as experience is filled in by its representation,
even if not made peace with.

Related Poems

Sakura Park

The park admits the wind,
the petals lift and scatter

like versions of myself I was on the verge
of becoming; and ten years on

and ten blocks down I still can’t tell
whether this dispersal resembles

a fist unclenching or waving goodbye.
But the petals scatter faster,

seeking the rose, the cigarette vendor,
and at least I’ve got by pumping heart

some rules of conduct: refuse to choose
between turning pages and turning heads

though the stubborn dine alone. Get over
“getting over”: dark clouds don’t fade

but drift with ever deeper colors.
Give up on rooted happiness

(the stolid trees on fire!) and sweet reprieve
(a poor park but my own) will follow.

There is still a chance the empty gazebo
will draw crowds from the greater world.

And meanwhile, meanwhile’s far from nothing:
the humming moment, the rustle of cherry trees.

The Praying Tree

Ten years of driving the same highway, past the same tree, the
    picture is
at last complete. The eucalyptus tree and narrow birds above a
steel sea with no thoughts of yesterday, today, or tomorrow.

Black cormorants on bare branches spread their wings as if in
A sunny day in Summerland and the tree, visible only from the
hides its penitent perch from cars racing by too fast.

Four wheels swerve to avoid a sheer cliff, southbound on the 101.
The fat sun slides its yolk into the glass ocean. Slow down, see
an empty nest of woven round sticks in the praying tree.

Birds soak in rays without fear of melanoma or the nature
of forgiveness. Slick imperfections, wet wings
open and close in Morse code for goodbye.


Why not lindendust,
   hackberry, hemlock,
live oak, maple, why
   name the remains
after the blade, not
   what it cut—

only now do I see
   that the air is full
of small sharp stars
   pinwheeling through
every living thing
   that gets in their way.