Willows

His black hair and Cherokee ancestry
glow like embers in the hospital bed.
He looks up at his son, home from college,
and tries to joke about the irony
of an arborist tied intravenously
to a tree of medicines.
They talk of dogwood, pine,
willow, everything he grows,
and there is such longing
in his father’s eyes the young man
finally has to look away.


Through the window they watch
gloves of darkness tighten their grip
around a pond. When at last they speak
of the cancer sapping his body,
the father pulls a pillow to his face
so his son will not see him weep.
His gnarled hands tremble as he curls
into a fetal ring. The only sounds
are a television down the hall
and the squeaking of nurses’ shoes.

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