Notes on the Passing of a Tree

Sugar Maple, October 2020

I come outside to berate the men, pulled up on my sidewalk in their truck, not realizing it’s really a hearse, these the pall bearers

They mean no harm; they have a job to do and they apologize, but then the lift and chipper arrive, and I know what death lies ahead

I come outside to take pictures, to touch the standing bark for the last time, the tree already bare in mid-December, forecast full of snow this week ahead

As I sit and write, I hear the saws going full blast, branches already on the ground—the men work fast to trim to trim the tree naked of her branches

They chip the wood, and then the saws start again, branches drop to the ground with a thump, and it’s hard to write under such bitter conditions

The snow flitting through the air reminds me of a summer breeze rustling the branches, full of green leaves, luscious and alive

This tree must be at least one hundred and fifty years old, silver or sugar maple, I can never get it right, but the pictures of my house in black and white, show trees mature even when the house was built years and years ago

Oh, how sad to hear the teeth cut into the wood, breathing out smoke and chips, chips and smoke

Up in the air, the men still sawing, taking down the large post of a tree, so naked, almost embarrassing to the others that watch in horror—they know the sound of death, the long sinewy sound, the thumps of the wood pounding the earth below

It’s the sound more than anything, the saws burning daylight, in unison, and the loud cracking as each branch finally lets go

The men lasso the tree for the final rodeo, pulling with all their strength as the final cuts into the long naked staff will soon tumble to the ground, entirely emasculated; but I think of this tree as a woman, which leads these men to be something else entirely—better to think of the rodeo

I attend the final words, the long, loud cuts into the heartwood, filming the end for posterity, to show my family on their return from work and school, the fate of the large Sugar Maple, our last one out front of the house

I will wear black, while the saws slowly now, cut her into pieces, the chipper running hard again—so silent a life, so violent a death

I will wear black for I mourn the the passing of our tree

I will wear black

Montrose, Pa
December 15, 2020

This poem was almost completely spontaneous free verse, which I usually don’t write. My typical writing process includes lots of revision of the lines, circling back again and again as I try to perfect each line while in a continuous flow of revision. This September, inspired by my friend, Sean Talbott, who let me with his journal, I saw page after page of spontaneous prose; he would write line after line without a single cross-out, and I realized there’s something very vulnerable about spontaneous prose, and writing more quickly without revision allows the emotions to spill onto the page must faster. It becomes a much more emotional experience rather than an intellectual one. I am forever grateful for him trusting me with his journal. It brought back the Jack Kerouac in me that I loved to read while both in high school and college, for On the Road was written entirely in this method of spontaneous prose. As I’ve written my way through the past few months, spontaneous prose has been a major method in my recovery from depression and anxiety, and I am truly grateful for Sean’s journal and inspiration. This poem would not be possible without him coming into my life. As he would say, “I love yhou, brother.”

If you would like to read more of my poetry, please follow the MY POETRY link in the menu. I have copies of my collection of poems about Montrose called Public Avenue. Shipping is free, and the response to the collection has been very positive.

10 Replies to “Notes on the Passing of a Tree”

  1. It really brought home the day we had to have a huge pine tree cut down in front of our house at the time. It had been planted too close to the house by the original owner and was beginning to cause problems with its roots. It’s always sad to have to bring down a majestic tree.

    Seasons Greetings, Bill


    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a lovely poem, Aaron. I grew up in Oregon, surrounded by trees. I have been thinking of writing a poem lately titled “I was Partially Raised by Trees.” Your poem captures the very thing I would write about: How trees become a part of our family. They mean something.


  3. That is a power elegy. I’m glad the takedown of that tree did not go without notice and something to remember it by. For the past year or two I’ve been trying to photographically documenting the ongoing loss of trees in my neighborhood, and write about the impact of these losses. Some of the photos can be seen at the link which I entered in the website space below.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I had to come find this, because it was mentioned in the meeting. I have not one but two poems about trees. One of them has death in it. What a bizarre coincidence. 🙂


    1. Thanks for reading. There’s two poems I’ve been carrying around with me the last couple months. Both are by Mary Oliver but appear in different collections. “When I Am Among the Trees” and “Wind Through the Pines.” Someone also recently shared a quote from Ram Dass with me. It talks about treating people like trees. I’ll see if I can post it here somehow.


  5. This poem is beautifully written . The words cut into my soul, just like the chainsaw into the tree. Once you understand trees, you will feel the same.


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