Philip Metres poet
Philip Metres – poet, translator, educator

The Ash Tree
                December, 1998

1.  On I-90 in Indiana, Driving Westward

Just before we shoot through Gary, 
            our ’84 Accord stutters, lurches 
                        and goes silent.  Only the radio chatters,

like someone beginning to freeze,
            of the latest surgical strike: Operation 
                        Desert Fox.  Last night, we held hand-

scrawled signs at Courthouse Square, lifting 
            gloved slogans against the awestruck 
                        exclamations of CNN.  The gaggle

of traffic responded: quick beeps, long honks,
            the bird.  One Ram Tough guy bleated
                        something about Iraq, the Stone Age.

Like a small rain falling,
            Hassan said of the bombing.  Flurries 
                        blow like flies into headlights,

all America catapults into winter.
            On the radio an Ojibway singer
                        says the drum is the heart

of the people.  When the drum stops,
            the people die.  In the breakdown lane 
                        outside the Murder Capital of the World,

we consider the risks: stay in the car—
            frostbite or mangled metal.  Flag down 
                        some help—robbery at gunpoint.  Descend

the exit ramp curling beneath us, 
            to call a tow— …………….
                        ………………………  Headlights
bulldoze the black ash of Indiana night.

2.  Winter Solstice, Lincolnshire, Illinois

Dawn.  In this suburban preserve,
            I skid down the icy driveway in skivvies
for the news, swaddled in blue plastic.
            No mention of the midnight angel

descending in greasy overalls to lay
            his gnarled hands on our dead engine.  
Overhead, Canada geese kvetch
            like families parting at an airport gate.

Tomorrow, when you fly home,
            you’ll still be with me
like my own pulse, beating
            its single wing in my wrist:

what the geese ululate over, 
            what the robed Iraqi wonders
in the Tribune photo: he clasps 
            his daughter’s hand, stares down a crater

where his house had been.  My love, 
            this is our country.  A small rain falls,
arrowheads of birds arc the sky.  Last spring, 
            they circled our familiar ash tree

my father had just hacked to kindling.  
            It took him all day, what had been dying
from within for years.  What stood 
            cock-eyed and etched on my childhood

window, now hisses in our hearth, rages
            beyond all protest: the ash tree
squat in the flames it feeds 
            with itself, burning into its name.

* * * * *

“The Ash Tree” appears in Metres’ prize-winning new poetry collection To See the Earth
(Cleveland State University Press, 2008)

with grateful acknowledgement to Mizna, where it first appeared

This poem is included in the Crisis Chronicles Library by permission

All rights remain with Philip Metres

See and hear Philip Metres performing his poetry Thursday September 11th 2008
at Cleveland’s renowned Literary Cafe (click here for more information)

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