The Ash in Giovanni Caboto Park

A wooden stake in the heart of the park.
A green canopy between soccer field
and playground, a shadow 60 feet round
and just as tall. A Maypole, a playboy,
father of fall samara showers
for a century, the helicopter toys
his harem launches in September winds.

Every spring his yellow-green leaves
stretch out to catch the light, glow golden
when the sun is low, glisten after rain,
listen to the laughter of little children
let loose after six months of darkness.
Every summer branches grow stouter,
twigs reach farther away from the trunk.
Every October the wind, the cold, the dark,
the invisible backward tilt of planet earth
strip him naked and send children away.
Every year the bark’s spiral furrows deepen.
Along the widest wrinkles, russet streaks
spread, varicose veins on gray corduroy.
Every year, his trunk, 12 feet around,
expands by yet another narrow ring.

He’s not supposed to live this long, to weather
a hundred winters. Six blocks to the south,
the Paskins house is a hundred and ten.
It’s been renovated time and again.
But this tree, he’s healed himself of disease,
housed beetles, peckers, worms, and waxwings,
sheltered derelicts from the wind and rain,
and wanted no more than a manicure,
now and then, to clip broken branches.
Fraxinus pennsylvanica, green ash,
a migrant to these parts, Yankee settler
from the east whose Edmonton was meaner,
less civilized, yet planted little trees.

When he dies and topples and foresters
cut his trunk to read the story of his rings,
his last wish, to have a festival of fire:
the crack and pop of cellulose set loose,
a pillar of flame, a red spark barrage
like a fan of rocket flares arcing free,
a throng of people dancing round and round
to thumping drums, holding each other’s hands.
The pile of ash that’s left, let the wind blow,
let the rain and snow carry where it will.

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