Old Man in the Garden
OLD MAN IN THE GARDEN
"A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee." -Psalm 91: 7
He bunched his tattered shirt the best he could. His chest
And neck were badly charred. Fresh wounds seemed scorched
Shut. He must have lain front and back for a long time in mud.
I nodded in passing, but he raised his hand, bringing it down
In tremor to pat the stone bench, inviting me to join him. As I
Sat, he rose and knelt a distance from me, trying to speak, as
Through gravel. His eyes gave me to believe he was one
Taken from us at Ground Zero, and now allowed to return
To us, to beseech us, within the embrace of his widespread
Arms, to hear what it is he had been told to reveal.
(And here, his voice began to heal itself):
"These saplings are left in your care. They are not your ordinary
Callery, mind you. These descendants ascended from a mother
Who put off a Fire Blight, bent on squirming against her stems
For two decades, its infection failing to turn them flaming red,
Before the Towers came tumbling down: Crazed men's rage
Melting trident cladding, chairs and stairs and steel-rimmed
Glasses, I-beams, girders, elevators, clocks and purses, bottles
Of water and Dr. Dentons, tombs of rubble rising through ash.
Weeks later, an 8-foot scraggle of a tree, a snag tagged for trash,
To be dragged on the skid trails of Vesey, Liberty, Church, and
West, to a barge for burning in The Bone Yard ashore the Fresh
Kill Landfill until a worker wielding a chainsaw, pulled back
On seeing, above the embers, a green sprout, and went to his
Knees, whispering 'Survivor.' After years of intensive care, she
Was returned home.
(It was then the old man crawled to the grass and patted it):
I am here to tell you that the moment these young trees were
Tamped into Rockland soil, their roots were sent sprawling in a
Wondrous web, just below the county lawns and fields on which
We survive. At dusk, this evening, or any evening you choose,
Lay your palm upon your chosen land and feel each other's surge."