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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 13, Number 2, June 2019

Keith Polette’s “The Choice,” A Personal Commentary by J Hahn Doleman

One morning not long ago I awoke to the sound of chainsaws and Spanish-speaking voices belonging to arborists who were delimbing the Monterey pine that had grown steadily in my neighbor’s backyard since the day I took up residence next door. The roots of the pine were threatening to break through the foundation of his garage, and my neighbor had a choice: move the garage or remove the tree.

The pine had encroached on my southeast view and blocked an aspect of the morning sun; yet in exchange it offered shade, gave the impression of being in a forest when in fact we are in the middle of a city, and provided a gathering place for the hummingbirds and house finches that visited its branches just outside my window on a daily basis. The tree became such an integral part of my life that I presumed part ownership.

Keith Polette’s haibun “The Choice” reminded me of that beloved, borrowed pine, now gone, and the betrayal I felt when my neighbor decided to chop it down. I am realistic enough to understand that most of us find it necessary to sacrifice plant or animal life for what we consider to be financial imperatives; however, such actions nearly always now reflect a dissociation with the natural world to which we belong, destroying the very ecosystem that supports us in favor of short term benefits.

Many excellent modern haibun are brief yet powerful, and “The Choice” is about as concise as they come: one paragraph in four short sentences with a single haiku at the end that manages a heartrending link and shift. The twist is unexpected and that’s one reason it works so well. This haibun is certainly not the first to juxtapose childhood innocence with the cynicism of an adult world, but it is one of the strongest I’ve read that does so.

Polette’s piece includes an epigraph - the first line of Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall” - and from its spirit we could be forgiven for thinking the tree may be spared in the end. Perhaps a more sanguine reader would argue it might. I can imagine a world where Polette’s daughter prevails, the sound of chopping ceases, the wall is forgotten, and the air fills again with rustling leaves and birdsong.

Keith Polette
El Paso, Texas, USA

The Choice

Something there is that does not love a wall.
—Robert Frost, “Mending Wall”

Fifteen years ago, a wild cotton tree took root in the plot of land just behind the rock wall in my yard. The tree has grown to a height of over fifty feet, and its roots have begun pushing against the wall, causing a severe curvature. If nothing is done, the wall will topple; it’s only a matter of time. So, the choice: take out the tree or lose the wall.

sound of chopping
my daughter asks me
if trees have feelings



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