This is what we have had to do, amid pandemic, grief, political chaos, fires, human rights disasters: continue on with our lives. Doing chores … taking walks … teaching kids … trying to stay steady. In his brilliant forthcoming book, “Tethered to Stars,” Fady Joudah writes about the mysterious cosmos swirling with intricate linkages — as his phone is pinging. Ah, yes, Jerusalem, the Holy City! Right now, let’s call all our cities holy. Let’s hope our trees continue to communicate, whatever humans can or can’t accomplish.
By Fady Joudah
After yoga, I took my car to the shop.
Coils, spark plugs, computer chips, and a two-mile walk
home, our fossilized public transportation, elementary
school recess hour, kids whirling joy, the all-familiar
neighborhood. And then another newly demolished house.
How long since I’ve been out walking? A message appeared
on my phone: an American literary magazine
calling for a special issue on Jerusalem, deadline approaching,
art and the ashes of light. At the construction site
the live oak that appeared my age when I became a father
was now being dismembered. The machinery and its men:
almost always men, poor or cheap labor, colored
with American dreams. The permit to snuff the tree
was legally obtained. The new house is likely destined
for a nice couple with children. Their children
won’t know there was a tree. I paused to watch
the live oak brutalized limb by limb until its trunk stood
hanged, and the wind couldn’t bear the place:
who loves the smell of fresh sap in the morning,
the waft of SOS the tree’s been sending
to other trees? How many feathers will relocate
since nearby can absorb the birds?
Farewell for days on end. They were digging a hole
around the tree’s base to uproot and chop it
then repurpose its life.
Naomi Shihab Nye is the Young People’s Poet Laureate of the Poetry Foundation in Chicago. Her most recent book is “Everything Comes Next — Collected & New Poems” (Greenwillow Books). Fady Joudah’s fifth book of original poems is “Tethered to Stars” (Milkweed Editions, March 2021). He has translated poetry collections from Arabic and has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Griffin Poetry Prize and the PEN Translation Prize. He practices internal medicine in Houston.
Illustration by R.O. Blechman