Elm – Richard Bernstein

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Suburban legend held that the elm
first shading then dropping itself
in beetle ravaged pieces
on my boyhood home

was the county’s second largest
leading inevitably to the whereabouts
of the largest, a question my mother
dismissed as irrelevant

lest she be forced to admit that in her haste
to flee the city for suburbia
she had selected the wrong tree
under which to raise her children

and the eyebrows of her neighbors
with her city ways that meant
she would not accept second best
on their behalf

a posture that put her nakedly
in opposition
to a principal, a music teacher,
a priest, the road commissioner

the recreation director, superintendent
of schools (whose daughter was
my seventh-grade girlfriend)
and the football coach

all men I wished she would not have
sprayed with the pesticide
she thought was needed to stop
an infestation of anti-Semitism

that I was dying to deny by pretending
I was not an elm
while fighting my own beetles
in a county of oaks and tall boys

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