“My Father. A Tree.” by Tina Chang

My Father. A Tree.

Today, longing for my father,
I saw a solitary bleached owl skim
the dark grasses. It swept so low
to the ground it might have buried itself.
I did not know my father so how could I
be lonely for that guardian?

When I was a newborn, I didn’t let
my father hold me. I cried in his presence
till my mother came. My father would shrug,
lean into his high backed chair, to read the paper,
to smoke his pipe while he heard his wife
sing to his only daughter.

In the woods, I summon him
and my eyes fool me as a dark haired
jay shifts a twig, or a stone rolls
into the creek. I think I hear his footsteps
on the path, but it is only the oak
hip twitching to the afternoon’s cold wind.

When I was born, he must have felt
the rupture in his chest, dark matter funneling
through his veins, and he must have known
he would not be here for the rest but he ushered
me into that brightly lit room, the earth
with all its lumen.

Father, I know you are here,
the only place you must be,
where the heavy branches
lean into bright air.

I put down my sack to eat everything
I have carried with me. When I am done,
the ants come swarming in to take
the last of it, to cleanse the earth
of abundance and discard.

Walking in these woods, I believe
that tall shadows and shifts of light
mean that something is at work beyond me.

Midway home and the redwood
are letting go their furious scent,
where you are the tree left standing
and I am this frozen salt flat,
hemisphere of crushed snow.


Tina Chang, 1968–

“My Father. A Tree.”
© 2020 Tina Chang

Photo by Ryan W on Unsplash

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