They wanted to tear down the tulip tree, our neighbors, last year. It throws a / shadow over their vegetable patch, the only tree in our backyard. We said no. / Now they’ve hired someone to chainsaw an arm—the crux on our side of / the fence—and my wife, in tousled hair and morning sweat, marches to stop the / carnage, mid-limb. It reminds her of her childhood home, a shady place to hide. / She recites her litany of no, returns. Minutes later, the neighbors emerge. The / worker points to our unblinded window. I want to say, it’s not me, slide out of / view behind a wall of cupboards, ominous breakfast table, steam of tea, our two / young daughters now alone. I want no trouble. Must I fight for my wife’s desire / for yellow blooms when my neighbors’ tomatoes will stunt and blight in shade? / Always the same story: two people, one tree, not enough land or light or love. / Like the baby brought to Solomon, someone must give. Dear neighbor, it’s not / me. Bloom-shadowed, light-deprived, they lower the chainsaw again.
Philip Metres, “One Tree” from Shrapnel Maps. Copyright © 2020 by Philip Metres. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, coppercanyonpress.org.
This poem was originally read in the Poetry Unbound episode “Philip Metres — One Tree.”