All afternoon my brothers and I have worked in the
Digging this hole, laying you into it, carefully packing
Rain blackened the horizon, but cold winds kept it
over the Pacific,
And the sky above us stayed the dull gray
Of an old year coming to an end.
In Sicily a father plants a tree to celebrate his first
son’s birth –
An olive or a fig tree – a sign that the earth has once
more life to bear.
I would have done the same, proudly laying new
stock into my father’s orchard.
A green sapling rising among the twisted apple
A promise of new fruit in other autumns.
But today we kneel in the cold planting you, our
Defying the practical custom of our fathers,
Wrapping in your roots a lock of hair, a piece of an
infant’s birth cord,
All that remains above earth of a first-born son,
A few stray atoms brought back to the elements.
We will give you what we can – our labour and our
Water drawn from the earth when the skies fail,
Nights scented with the ocean fog, days softened by
the circuit of bees.
We plant you in the corner of the grove, bathed in
A slender shoot against the sunset.
And when our family is no more, all of his unborn
Every niece and nephew scattered, the house torn
His mother’s beauty ashes in the air,
I want you to stand among strangers, all young and
ephemeral to you,
Silently keeping the secret of your birth.
by Dana Gioia, from The Gods of Winter, 1991