Jennifer Chang



Eleanor’s maple insisted
otherwise, flushed with rage, and then
shed. Now, the alley our houses share
flames red with maple leaves.

Six months gone, she
sold the house to very tall
brothers, mere children. I watch
the tallest brothers

pass around a silver
ball, singing But I want
a golden ball, a golden
kitchen, golden penmanship,

more gold, more. I want more and
more gold. Soon the ball
sang along with the boys,
a silver ball

with a golden tongue.
I had no gold,
but I had a brother
with whom I never played.


There was nothing between us is what I remember.

We were poorest my first winter.

I wept into the night, so I’ve heard, my infant skin

inhumanly cold. He stacked wool,

layers of cotton, made
a bed for me while nursing

a fire. Dutifully,
he kept out the smoke. Still

I was choking, choking.
Our parents made him

steward of the yard. To me,

this was a field where no deer roamed.

Pussywillow grew on the margins,
birds hiding in hydrangea. I held
warm feathers, my hands

warmed by constant cooing. Pigeons, some
misdirected wrens. I grew

without effort,
stewarded by a brother,

our lives made small

by trees from other
yards. Winter bared all.

What faith I had in green things,
this spark

of breath, a promise against dying, I
yielded all to winter.


Today the brothers are climbing

Eleanor’s maple,

and I am watching them again.

Some days they look like men,

wielding a sense

of dominion. Arms outstretching

the tallest branches, they reach

rooftops, reign our city

until it is theirs.  

I, too, have a plot of nature.

No grass grows here, and I’ve

trimmed the crepe myrtle, containing

its rude splendor every spring.

This is not to say I am a good neighbor.

I say hello when I am seen.

Sometimes the brothers nod

and smile. Sometimes chaos

skins them, vicious flickers

of sport that make them wholly

indistinguishable. The sport

or the body, the brother

or the other, their doing

an undoing or their undoing

all done. The question

might ask who or what, but

I am not asking the question.

I am watching them again.


Which is to say,
a woman named Eleanor once lived here.
Once she explained my crepe myrtle to me,
how it flowers to excess
then collapses under so much ornament.
Shyly, I commended her tree. (It was finally summer.)
Yes, she deposed. Thank you, she complied.

A woman named Eleanor once lived here.