The stump looked like a medical illustration
of a heart, and its few wispy sprouts
showed me it wanted to live, so I planted it
by the door thirty years ago.
Each fall before the winds I still cut one side away
from the windows and trim out several fine
straight sticks sturdy enough for beanpoles.
So now, lopsided, a few branches looped and snaking,
it is grandly disreputable, nothing of the nursery
about it, and its three-lobed leaves, looking like
goose prints, turn yellow as October cools so it seems
fall’s counterpoint to forsythia. Called goosefoot
some places, here it is nicknamed whistlewood:
a smart kid with a jackknife can reverse it to wood whistle.
Considered a pest of the understory by foresters,
it can live to be a hundred. I have stood under it
as a two-foot baby redtail hawk grappled through its twists,
wings trapped open or akimbo, shaking down
flocks of propellering fruit upon a fleeing chipmunk
and me. And all this spring a male yellowthroat
— a warbler with a black mask like a cartoon
housebreaker’s — has been jerking its tail
as furiously as a wren and knocking at its own
reflection in the windows, defending its nest secreted
somewhere in the maple, even while showing
without knowing it that we have to look into
ourselves to look out for ourselves, and see
through our dubious aspects.