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September 4, 2013

After Erik died
I planted a weeping willow tree
Back near the railroad tracks.

One brisk November morning
I dug a hole in the soggy earth
Eyes brimming in the chilly wind.

Bending against the cold
I loosened the burlap around the ball
Eyes overflowing with tears.

Down on my knees
I packed composted cow manure around the roots
Streams running down my cheeks.

With icy fingers
I hauled a five gallon bucket of water to the tree
Pouring from the bucket, pouring from my eyes.

After I mulched
I sat on a bale of straw
Weeping with the willow.

Being a planter,
Being a grave digger,
Being a father are all the same.

With a sharp shovel
You dig a hole to plant something so alive
Hoping for new life.

I sat on the bale
Pawing at the red dirt with my boot
Sobbing quietly.

For eleven years
I found comfort in the weeping willow
As it grew.

For eleven winters
It survived ice and wind and snow
And it grew.

For eleven springs
Hanging green branches danced in the breeze
And it grew.

For eleven summers,
In drought and heat it sent roots deep
And it grew.

For ten autumns,
I stood draped beneath golden branches
Weeping with the tree.

Last Spring,
A lonely mockingbird sang through the night,
And I listened.

From the tree top
Night after night the sweet medley filled the air,
And I listened.

Fifty feet above me
The mockingbird warned me and the tree,
And I listened.

For eleven years
The tree grew tall and strong
Weeping every in season.

A new property owner moved in next door
To start a landscape business.

Chainsaw in hand
He cut the weeping willow down
My eyes filled again.

Standing over the stump,
Said he didn’t know, “Sorry for the misunderstanding.”
And I wept for the weeping willow.

Kirk H. Neely

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