The fifth tree
The dog’s name was Frederick.
On Christmas day he breathed his last
Short breath, four years ago this Christmas
And I lifted him, knowing his lightness
And his heaviness and buried him beside
The shed and placed a rough stone jagged
Edge up in the troubled dark ground. All the dog
Ever did was add a troubled edge to the day
Of anyone coming near his family. Swedish
Vallhund, short brown hair, long white teeth
Beneath black lips, he bit half a dozen neighbors
Across three neighborhoods and all forgave him
For whatever reason anyone forgives anything.
Every year here, the day after Thanksgiving, it’s raining.
The raining, present Friday, always the same.
My family and I pick out a Douglas fir for our Christmas tree
From the yard of a church a few minutes up the road.
The trees lean against a makeshift wall like middle
schoolers at their first Friday night dance. And we pick
One like one of them might be picked just before
The last song. And we dress the dying thing and
Give it water and when the solstice passes and
Christmas passes and New Year’s passes we take
It down and I drag it respectfully through the yard and
Lay it behind the shed and let it do what dead trees do.
Reminders to me, of what I am not sure, but I prefer
These trees where they are to things picked up from curbs
And tossed into a truck’s crushing metal ending.
On Christmas day the fifth tree shines inside and as
The afternoon warms I pay my respect to the previous
Douglas firs, and to the spirit of the dog who never saw
A stranger’s leg he didn’t want to bite. Hard to think
The second tree, the third, the fourth, came after Frederick
was already in the ground, with a fifth soon to join it. Some day
I’ll stop the family tradition or my children will, with respect
To these trees, and the dog who keeps them company,
To the fierce desire with which the dead serve the living.