Autumn Sky Poetry . . . Number 14 . . .

Japanese Maple

     by William Keener

All summer, the neighbors complained
that my maple cast too much shade.

What would the Buddha say, content
to sit in muted light offered by a tree?
I promised to have her pruned, waiting

for the weather to turn cold and damp
when her bower was supposed to fade.

But on the morning the arborist came
she wore silks I’d rarely seen before,
a red kimono embroidered with gold.

Her only flaw’s extravagance, he said,
and set the chainsaw to her branches.

I did not tell him that I spoke to her
on the first warm day in March, watched
as she practiced her green origami.

He shook his head, Can’t fool a tree,
the more it’s cut, the more it grows.

For months, I’d called her Shikibu;
in Imperial Kyoto centuries past,
she knew the seasons of love, of loss. 

Trees can feel the coming frost.
It’s time to send their sap to roots.

She chose her words with ink and brush,
listened to the struck bell of her heart
until every sound was written down.

He said, Fallen leaves should reach
bare soil—pry up your garden bricks.

When he’d gone, in the drizzle after rain
I raked and swept her scattered leaves.
A thousand cranes in feathers on the ground.

William Keener’s chapbook of nature poems, Gold Leaf on Granite, was just published by Anabiosis Press. His recent work appears in Water-Stone Review, Margie, Isotope, The Raven Chronicles, The Main Street Rag, Caesura, and Wild Goose Poetry Review. He is an environmental lawyer in the San Francisco Bay Area, and can be reached at

© 2009 William Keener

A portion of a tanka by Izumi Shikibu is taken from a translation by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani in The Ink Dark Moon, Vintage Books, 1990.