Plant a tree

(22 January - 6 February 1992) after Lucy Larcom

Whoever planted these trees didn’t know the trees he planted. They arch above like fragile Gothic cathedrals on pedestals between Alma Street and San Francisquito Creek, sloughing giants thickening the mat of cellulose below them. Representing scrawny orphans from Australia, the salesman’s shtick must have been to promise anything you wanted— Fast growth—Plant eucalyptus. Good lumber—Plant eucalyptus. (What do they know?) Good firewood—Plant eucalyptus. Disease resistance—Plant eucalyptus. Medicinal uses—Smell that eucalyptus: Put eucalyptus leaves under a mattress— Good for ridding your bed of fleas. Or buy eucalyptus-flavored cough drops to purge the sickness from your blood. Suited for the climate—Plant eucalyptus. (They resist drought but I’ll be out of here before the next freeze kills all their leaves.) Ribbons of bark drape each fork. When a hard wind blows, the ribbons fly like kites and giant limbs crash across the path. Passing by, I never see a squirrel in their leaves. A squirrel wouldn’t eat those aromatic pips scattered like gravel where they’ve fallen. A home for birds? These trees are the wind— elemental and unnourishing. Their only dependents are the homeless who crawl up the bank from the creek and compare their rags to clothes in a cardboard box that someone has taken from the Goodwill pile and left behind the thickest trunk. Their irrelevance has guaranteed that ever on their pedestals they stand undesecrated but in a continual decay—giant spoils of nature releasing their long and narrow leaves like the letters of missionaries to preach to the neighborhood, blades that rust but never rot gradually reduced to dust.