Philip Metres – poet, translator, educator
The Ash Tree
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— …………….
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)
Visit Philip Metres online at www.philipmetres.com
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