The Oak

First, a crack like the splinter of lightning,
as if the sky had clapped its hands
and opened itself to the dusk. I watched
a steady stream of cars snake its way
down my horseshoe drive, a tide
like a funeral procession. Turns out,
no one had died but a tree—an oak—
ravaged by drought or parasitic
disease, sprawling like a toppled
icon across the street, redirecting
the flow of traffic. I got closer,
bending down to where it had broken
open, a gash of rotten wood like teeth,
the head of a child in its hollow.
What will they do with it, I wondered,
and where to take the poem from here,
caught as I was in my own reflection,
seeing my own face in the scars
of a tree, a grief exposed to the blind
light of streetlamps, to the gawking
of random passers-by, to the dusk
congealing like blood at my feet.
I couldn’t tear myself away. Then
it was no tree, but the felled weight
of suffering. Something had died
in me. For once, to look upon
that desiccated self—an ossuary
of broken limbs, a shattered crown
of leaves—and feel nothing but
the smooth balm of relief, a wave
of compassion rising. Meanwhile,
the oak lay ravaged on the six o’clock
street. Disgruntled drivers detoured.
I say this not to console or relieve:
There was no other way around it.