Clearing
Noel Sloboda

Every eight years, maybe seven, limbs
must go. So says the man, a keeper
of trees from Hemlock Co.
Across the oak-studded lawn
he strides, clipboard in hand,
taking notes about what
I’ve gotten myself into,
this naturally-seeded lot.
Easier to log them, to avoid
sap-stained cars and raking-backaches,
to let the grass feel the sun.

We bought the lot for the trees’ beauty;
didn’t recognize their danger, their cost.
“Baptism by fire okay, but baptism
by wood, no good,” declares the keeper,
gesturing toward a gnarled branch
thicker than he is, black with what looks like rot.
“That one’s a widow-maker,” he says,
indicating another dark limb, half-obscured
by leaves. “That branch’s bigger’n my bank,”
chortles my guide, directing my attention
upward, eastward, toward a giant’s claw,
fingers longer than I am tall, waving
goodbye to someone fourteen miles away.

For the keeper’s jocose mood
I can’t account. But I say nothing.
Expertise like this doesn’t come cheap.
The less I talk, the sooner I’ll know the price
for clearing the deadwood. As I follow him,
a tree reaches out, not from above but below:
a root erupting above ground turns
my foot, sends me sprawling amid fallen leaves.
The bed where I lie crackles; without rising,
enjoying the view, I shift my head. The trees look
even taller from down here. Uncertain,
the keeper glances down, then away;
for the first time that day I laugh.