Maxine Scates

October 22, 2023 Scates Maxine



Hours ago I was walking with my dog down
Old Dillard Road in the pouring rain where
there are fewer maples and mostly tall firs,
walking into the long corridor of trees swaying
and dipping over the hidden cars and houses,
my dog’s coat dripping, my jacket, my hat
streaming, and from one step to the next it was
as if everything around me had forgotten itself,
or maybe it was just me. Now, mid-morning,
the clouds are lowering over the bare maples,
the wind rising again and the darkness has
arrived, lights flickering, and I see the little oak
I’ve staked to a post will drop its leaves at last
as flying branches from the firs behind the house
thud against the roof, reminding me of the fir
next to the house we had cut down last month
because it had grown taller and thicker through
the years until this past summer we heard its trunk
pushing against the house even in the slightest
breeze. It was a beautiful tree, one hundred and
fifteen feet tall, towering over us, and after we
decided to cut it down, I spent the rest of the
summer looking up where I could see the whole
of its world, its mass of branches which hardly
seemed to move even in wind. I thought of all I
could not see, the life hidden from us below, and
how one summer fledgling crows fell one by one
from the nest to the roof, and though I learned
the crows were secretive, I never learned why
the fledglings kept falling. I found photos
of the tree through the years and saw that it was
once skinny, not quite as slender as the oak is now,
and growing several feet from the house. In all
of its years, a branch only speared the roof once,
during a snowstorm, and only when the snow had
melted and, as if pulling a plug, I pulled the tip
of the branch out of the hole, did the water pour
into the house. Yet, when we had the roof replaced
we notched the gutters so the tree could keep
growing. We wanted it to live and knew cutting it
down was a betrayal. But when the men who
cut it down were done, we saw at its base the tree
was rotting from within, which is probably why
it was leaning, the way we all do when we start to rot.

Maxine Scates’ fourth book of poems, My Wilderness, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2021.  Her poems have been widely published in such journals as AGNI, The American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, Ironwood, The New England Review, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Plume, Poetry Northwest, Poetry and The Virginia Quarterly Review and have received, among other awards, the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, the Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry and two Pushcart Prizes.