What else could he be?
Where else but the humus beneath
Could he have come from?
The inhuman sprawl of his body,
The breadth of his unseen anchors,
How he sways in derecho winds after refusing shelter,
How he is as still as a tableau when those winds stop.
Frank Howard is a bur oak tree.
If you still do not believe it, then see how
He obeys the seasons.
In autumn, his frilled acorns heed the chemical signals,
Fall, and gather about his roots.
Some of those frilled acorns once
Bounced off Frank Howard’s shallower limbs
And created deep thuds and thumps that sounded to him
Like steel rivets being driven
Into his most crucial branches –
All to fortify him against
Something distant and unimaginable.
In winter the downy woodpecker
Brought those sounds back to him
When it chiseled out refuge in his heartwood.
In the warmer months, though, the sounds vanished.
For too many springs and summers, he was lonely
For the sound – that prosody of collision.
So Frank Howard, the bur oak tree,
Decided to hit baseballs.
He tore his drought-tolerant roots from the soil and
Trundled, as though guided by marionette strings,
To the nearest Washington Senators game.
He swung a limb, thick as the railroad trestles that would
Bear him on road trips, at pitch upon pitch.
When his limb struck the baseball,
The sound was not what he’d heard from
The frilled acorns or the downy woodpecker.
It was something crueler and from a farther octave,
Akin to, he figured, the old mortar blasts that
His brothers and sisters of the Ardennes
Had told him of through slow-pulsing messages.
The sounds sated Frank Howard.
His root hairs, loosed from their
Rich and loamy moorings in the forest,
Would begin to starve by early fall, and then
Frank Howard knew it was time to go home.
Perhaps he would not make it back
In time to nourish them.
Or along the way, he could be spied as quarry fit for
Cordwood masonry or the carved mermaid
Of a ship’s prow or
Beams for our eyes or a spot in a backyard
Along the north fence line where
The snow doesn’t melt.
They would surely hang a tire swing from him.
For 16 springs and summers he endured those perils until
The years changed him and age whittled at his faculties.
Now Frank Howard sequesters less of our carbon.
His limbs lock into place more readily,
Unlock only with effort.
The crown flattens, the bark smoothes.
Some day, his passing will open up
A hole in the forest canopy
And allow the full sun to nurture the flowers
And shrubs and groundcover below him.
Until then, the starveling flora must survive on
The ribbons that make it through the
Sparse apertures in his thatch.
Time was when they could gather and cache
Enough “golden wine,” as they call it,
While Frank Howard was away hitting baseballs.
But he does that no longer.
Their biologies, their invisible pharmacies tell them
They should look forward to that day
When Frank Howard, the bur oak tree, groans and then
Falls down into a slow home burial and allows them
At last to feed on the sun without ceasing.
Yet they do not. Oh, they do not.
Dendros, they praise. Chronos, they lament.