Elegy For A Tree

by Alter Esselin

Alter Esselin

Eighteen years he stood beside my window
And with the curiosity of a dog's nose
He probed with his shadowing leaves at the walls
"What's going on in there?"
He listened for the scratch of my pen, the creak of my chair.
"Something new on your desk?"
Often I felt that he rejoiced with me
Over a freshly-coined rhyme or a well-built stanza.
And sometimes late at night, he tapped at my window:
"Go to sleep, fool,
Nothing will come of it anyway"

How amazing was the place where he began
From under iron gratings near a cellar stair
He had emerged, a delicate sapling with one bud as a cap
Humbly trembling in the wind
As if he were asking of the world
"May I?"--
He never grew at all in height.
Only in breadth, contrarily, a cripple right from birth.
Each year a new bough, a new deformity,
More branches--more monster;
Octopus-like, he bent and broke around him
Steel, stone and concrete,
Till he saw me through the window
And entrusted his life to me.

And after the iron he had overcome
There were so many monkey-quick climbing children.
So many hooks holding long lines of laundry,
So many carved names, dates and little hearts--
Albums of innocent young loves…
And now, when I look at the shattered whiteness of the broken trunk
With the saffron-yellow ring in the center
I can hardly remember that he ever bloomed at all.

I saw him in despair
When the blue silk of evening enfolded us both
In melancholy.
In white deep nights I would hear him sighing through the frost
"It goes badly for me, near one."

I saw him in a joyous mood
When April besprinkled him with life
Breathing upon him diamond bright warmth;
As I would open the window
He would blow in a breath
Of lilac sweetness from his heart's core,
"All for you, I have no one else."

I never even knew his taxonomic name
Or from what genus he came,
From which Gehenna, which oasis.
Eighteen years--just think--
Not only his
But a great portion of my life too,
With one thunderclap--null.

Today, I haven't wound my watch,
I skipped two meals
And never took the pipe from my mouth.

Last updated June 30, 2015