In the least breeze, a
dead leaf hangs on spider silk,
swirling and swinging.
In twilight Old Town,
above the end of First Street,
a yellow round moon.
From the speakers, Rod Stewart
sings “I know I’m losing you.”
A reading of poems
beckons me across the bay
over the long bridge.
Poets slowly trickle in,
mumbling soft conversations.
hums, waiting to clarify
secret arranged words.
Your hand reaches for mine
when I drive you to a movie
and a pasta dinner for two.
You scoop me into your arms.
I sleep snuggled against you,
baked by the heat of your body.
You know who you are.
You know roughly what you want.
It’s the details that fade.
Your evil stepmothers
still haunt you forty years later,
defining what you fear.
Last year’s dates slip away.
Iceburgs of despair melt
in shifting unwritten seas.
Your love for me is steady
when your reasons for doubt
melt like lost dreams.
Ella’s grandma Dot died last Sunday.
Nancy said, “She remembered everybody, even me.”
I didn’t understand what Nancy meant.
“What?” I asked. “She said tell Nancy and Ella goodbye?”
“No, no, you don’t understand.
You’re not with Hospice.
You haven’t watched anybody die.
They tell stories and talk about people
they’ve forgotten because of Alzheimer’s.”
This caught my curiosity.
“So you’re saying sometimg about the process of dying
seems to undo the affects of Alzheimer’s?”
“It seems that way.”
“That’s very curious,” I said.
“I wonder what it means.”
I’m still wondering.
Is this the effect of a healthy soul
prying itself loose from a defective brain,
or is there a purely physical explanation,
like the memories are always there,
and dying stops what’s suppressing them?
For once, the spiritual explanation seems more likely,
and I find myself doubting my own doubts.
This rainy season,
a twelve inch disco single,
keeps dancing through May.
Sun like a frog’s head,
a volkswagen bug profile,
a pancake, and gone.
Golden setting sun,
cold summer breeze on the bay,
trembling yellow weeds.
Walking with a redhaired dog,
two young women talk and laugh.
tall and dark near the cattails
where songbirds chitter.
I never could quite make out
what those two girls were saying.
I sit in beauty,
alone but not sad, watching
a gull on a post.
From log and stump, I measure the tree,
twenty seven inches in diameter,
about a hundred eighteen feet tall,
for sure the biggest tree I ever felled,
or ever will— this tree leaned toward the house.
Any others like it I’ll cut before
they outgrow my two foot chainsaw bar.
The stump has ninety two rings. I guess
it took about four years to grow that high,
so this tree sprouted in nineteen thirteen,
a year before the start of World War One.
For its first thirty nine years, it grew slowly,
after nineteen fifty two, it grew fast.
This date is written in all the douglas firs
big enough to be alive back then,
the year the loggers cut all the big trees.
Under my house, all over nearby woods,
four and five foot fir stumps are slowly rotting.
The loggers left behind a lot of logs.
For some reason many weren’t worth milling.
I cut up one or two for firewood,
but most of them are still housing termites
after more than half a century.
They dull a chainsaw fast, like cutting dirt,
and crumble to splinters and powder when split.
I begin, tying a ladder to the tree,
then climbing up as far as I dare,
holding ends of a broken garden hose.
Why not a rope? The hose is smooth,
less likely to get hung up on the bark.
I pull it tight, and tie it to the ladder.
Now for the chain. This thing is heavy.
About eight feet from one end I tie it
to a ladder rung with heavy wire,
and loop the end with the hook over the hose.
With a finishing nail in the end
of a five foot garden stake rammed into
the end of a ten foot plastic pipe,
I walk the end of the chain around the tree,
a process as comedic as it sounds,
but it does work. I climb the ladder,
grab the hook and latch it on the chain.
But the chain isn’t quite long enough
to reach the other tree.
I have to go to town to buy more chain.
The tree I’m cutting is big enough to break
any cable I have.
A couple mornings later, I’m clicking
the comealong to bring the chains together.
I want to minimize the slack.
The tree, in bondage, can’t fall on the house.
It leans slightly at right angles to the chain.
That’s where it should fall, near the stump
of the tanoak I cut down last week
to clear a space for it to fall.
I draw a level line in chalk,
eighty seven inches around the tree,
break it into quadrants, mark every cut.
This thing gives me adrenoline rushes
just looking at it, not such a good thing
for a man who’s had a heart attack.
It’s a new morning, cool enough to work.
The big chain saw has a new chain and bar,
perfectly straight, perfectly sharp, but somehow,
when I must make cuts from opposite sides,
these almost never line up perfectly.
Once the tree starts falling, I back off.
It’s falling, but falling very slowly.
I can’t believe there’s anything strong enough
way up there to catch a tree this size,
but there it is, stopped at forty five degrees.
What I need to do is unhook the chain
at the bottom, and reposition it
to pull the tree in a different direction
with the comealong, and it’ll fall,
but what I can’t do is unhook the chain.
It’s stretched too tight. It’s absolutely straight.
The log end is still on top of the stump.
If I hold it in place with a cable
stretched to another tree with the comealong,
I should be able to cut the splintered hinge,
slide the log across the stump and loosen
that most stubborn chain.
Cutting this with the small saw puts me too close
to a dangerous sudden movement,
so I switch to the big saw.
Of course it gets pinched by the sudden movement,
the bar warped, the chain kinked and ruined
by the time I work it free.
The log does slide across the stump in jerks,
barely moved by the comealong’s maximum tension,
then aha! I see a slight curve in the chain.
Now I can pull it tight with the comealong,
allowing real slack by the hook—
not quite enough to unhook it,
but enough to hammer out the pin.
The chain is free, but I’m burned out.
I’ll continue with my plan tomorrow
if necessary. A few branches crack.
I tell Rusty it could fall overnight.
It falls about twenty minutes later.
I’m sitting in the rocker, too sore and stuff
to go to the window to watch it fall.
still a clear blue sky
a lot cooler than last week
waiting for the rain
spagetti strapped thin dresses
soft convexities wiggle
feel like a stranger
the few times I go to town
a ghost without much to say
in and out of a white car
my car stereo
plays a chorus of bagpipes
at the gas station
that tutu-like ruffled skirt
doesn’t flatter her big butt
talking about rain
with the man who shares my spring
still a clear blue sky
a working flashlight
a few hundred feet that way
an open meadow
slow pulse crickets under trees
a steady trill in the grass
laying looking up
a quarter of the sky dome
milky way zenith
no moon no planets tonight
no Orion no Great Bear
the star field shimmers
as if I’m underwater
looking through a pool
my flashlight reveals a mist
rising from the yellow grass
far above my head
drifting microscopic drops
a beam to the sky
copyright © 2009 Carl Miller