My Witness Tree

With credit to Bob Hicok, in whose poem, “What I Know for Sure” I first read the term


I only heard these words together
for the first time last week: witness trees.
So I looked them up
and found their stories, both romantic and tragic.

There are Cherokee arborglyphs,
where they carved a record of their trails.
You can drive your wagon through a sequoia named
‘Wawona’ if you’re traveling down the Yosemite Valley.

There’s the Buddha’s banyan,
where he sat sheltered for years
and was eventually enlightened.

Newton napped under an apple tree,
Washington chopped a cherry,
and Shakespeare planted a mulberry.

Andrew Jackson has a prayer oak,
Pickett a black walnut,
and marking the graves of Union prisoners
is the Andersonville Magnolia.

My father planted a sugar maple in our front yard
the year we moved into the house on Hartford Drive
and that summer, when it was late, but still really light,
we played Red Rover at the Frasers’ across the street.
It felt like every kid in the neighborhood
stood in one of those two lines,
and we whooped and hollered
until Mom turned the porch light on.

Of course, Neil’s team won,
because he was the biggest and
could lock arms really tight,
no matter who came over.
At least, this is how I remember it.
I don’t know what the tree remembers.