Elegy for an Ash

by Ken Sehested

I confess I complained more than I should,
of your small branches falling in my yard,
having to stop the mower to toss them
to the side, for later bundling at the
curb for the city’s yard debris pickup. And
for your prodigious leaf rain each fall.
I suspect, though, you were pleased to
know your petals fed my compost. Did your
sensors recognize parts of your own
genome sequence in my cherry tomatoes?

I did not genuflect in your direction
nearly enough. For that I sorrowfully
repent. Now, that side of the house feels
naked. More so, since finally, two years
ago, I took an ax to the ivy vines blanketing
your height. Some growths, however
pleasing to the eye, are malignant and
voraciously suffocate all other life relying
on photosynthetic access.

Earlier this fall I called an arborist to assess
your health. The large limb that split from your
side four years ago, covering our side yard, took
me most of a day to cut up and fueled our fireplace
for a couple years. But the wound at your first
fork would not heal.

Cutting wood, as they say, warms twice: first in
the cutting; then again by the fire itself. Yet that
thermal equation neglects to mention the hypnotic
beauty of your flame.

You were an awesome plant, home no doubt to
countless fowl, now reduced by powered saws to
fireplace-length sections and a stump. I hope
you forgave the loggers for not removing their
steel-toed boots in your presence. I trust the
birds said their proper goodbyes.

I didn’t get to watch you coming down. And I am
sorry for that—well, maybe not sorry, for despite
my curiosity at the nimbleness and skill of the
harvesters, I think I might have cried. As it happens,
my sister is dying—the growth on her organs, though
not as comely as ivy, is more deadly—and I’m
being forced to ration my grief.

I shall remember your dying when I remember that
of my sister. I wanted to be with you both.

To honor your passing I will take my maul to your
remains, splitting—stroke by strenuous stroke—to
uncover the beautiful grain you patiently produced,
from a seedling’s eruption before I was born,
withstanding countless storms and freezing moisture,
heat, drought and flooding waters, anchored deep within
the soil, witness to countless dawns and sunsets, wars
and rumors of wars, human folly beyond imagination,
as well as laughter from outdoor parties in the patio
over which you reigned, your massive limbs and awesome
girth finally felled by small worms and mountain air
clogged by emissions from coal-burning power
generators—something for which the fossilized carbon
is not to blame—at levels far beyond your capacity to

You will also be pleased to know, I think, that your
smaller sibling, standing yards to the north, will surely
prosper from the increased southerly sun exposure. I
promise to keep the vines cut back. And to genuflect
more often.

Ash to ashes, all creaturely life to dust. Who can surmise
what next is to be blessed and fed with our remains?

Written December 2012, while accompanying my sister in her losing battle with cancer.