An Arbor

By Linda Gregerson b. 1950 Linda Gregerson
The world’s a world of trouble, your mother must   
                      have told you   
               that. Poison leaks into the basements

and tedium into the schools. The oak   
                      is going the way
               of the elm in the upper Midwest—my cousin

earns a living by taking the dead ones   
               And Jason’s alive yet, the fair-

haired child, his metal crib next   
                      to my daughter’s.
             Jason is one but last saw light five months ago

and won’t see light again.


Leaf against leaf without malice   
                     or forethought,
            the manifold species of murmuring

harm. No harm intended, there never is.   
                     The new
            inadequate software gets the reference librarian

fired. The maintenance crew turns off power one            
            and Monday the lab is a morgue: fifty-four

rabbits and seventeen months of research.   
                     Ignorance loves   
          as ignorance does and always

holds high office.   


Jason had the misfortune to suffer misfortune   
                   the third
          of July. July’s the month of hospital ro-

tations; on holiday weekends the venerable   
                   stay home.
          So when Jason lay blue and inert on the table

and couldn’t be made to breathe for three-and-a-
                  quarter hours,   
         the staff were too green to let him go.

The household gods have abandoned us to the gods   
                  of juris-
         prudence and suburban sprawl. The curve

of new tarmac, the municipal pool,   
                  the sky at work
         on the pock-marked river, fatuous sky,

the park where idling cars, mere yards   
                  from the slide
         and the swingset, deal beautiful oblivion in nickel

bags: the admitting room and its stately drive,   
         of the town’s best view.


And what’s to become of the three-year-old brother?   
                  When Jason was found   
         face down near the dogdish—it takes

just a cupful of water to drown—
                   his brother stood still
         in the corner and said he was hungry

and said that it wasn’t his fault.   
                  No fault.
         The fault’s in nature, who will

without system or explanation   
                make permanent
         havoc of little mistakes. A natural

mistake, the transient ill-will we define   
                as the normal
         and trust to be inconsequent,

by nature’s own abundance soon absorbed.   


Oak wilt, it’s called, the new disease.   
                Like any such
         contagion—hypocrisy in the conference room,

flattery in the halls—it works its mischief mostly   
         The men on the links haven’t noticed

yet. Their form is good. They’re par.   
                The woman who’s
         prospered from hating ideas loves causes

instead. A little shade, a little firewood.   
                I know
         a stand of oak on which my father’s

earthly joy depends. We’re slow   
                to cut our losses.

Linda Gregerson, “An Arbor” from The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep. Copyright © 1996 by Linda Gregerson. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Source: Poetry (December 1990).


This poem originally appeared in the December 1990 issue of Poetry magazine

View this poem in its original format

December 1990
 Linda  Gregerson


Linda Gregerson is the author of several collections of poetry and literary criticism. A Renaissance scholar, a classically trained actor, and a devotee of the sciences, Gregerson produces lyrical poems informed by her expansive reading that are inquisitive, unflinching, and tender. Tracing the connections she finds between science and poetry, Gregerson says, “I think there are rhythms of thought, fragile propositions about the . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Health & Illness, Living, Social Commentaries, Nature, Class, Sorrow & Grieving, Trees & Flowers, Parenthood

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.