The Bishop's Garden


Elizabeth Poliner

–National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

                                     Lately I’ve been entering
through the arched doorway of its stonewall border.
How transforming to slip inside, walk down the few stone steps,
access to another time—once upon a time—
and, indeed, earlier this fall was pure enchantment,
an oak with a spread so perfectly round and golden
it might as well have been a sun.

It’s been weeks since that day
when an older woman sat with me on my bench.
“Since yours is the only sunny spot,” she said, “I’ll join you.”
We both had our books, our need for the bright rays,
for a sit, and to my surprise what might have felt intrusive
didn’t.  A friendly silence ensued.  I read, she slept.
I slept, she read, until finally I rose to go.

But most days I sit by myself
on that one sunny bench.  Though the oak’s spread
grows thinner with each visit, a few leaves still dangle,
unwilling to fall.  The doctor tells me to go outdoors
an hour every day and as the days pass
I’ve come to feel like one of those steadfast leaves—
that is to say, no one is here anymore.

So I sit on the sunny bench,
alone, reading and contemplating the oak,
now nearly bare, as if it were more
than an ordinary tree subdued by the season,
as if it were an old, bald monk, still in silent meditation,
indifferent to the chilling around him, to the ground
in which he’s rooted, dense with loss.


Elizabeth Poliner is the author of Sudden Fog, a poetry chapbook, and Mutual Life & Casualty, a novel in stories.  Her poetry has appeared in The Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, The Hopkins Review, and Poetry Daily, among other journals.  She teaches creative writing at Hollins University’s Jackson Center for Creative Writing.


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