North Shore: Where the Rain Tree Was

by Tim Gilmore, 7/5/2012

Clinton and Mulberry Streets, the animals buried in the yard. The two poisoned rats, carcasses becoming again the earth, poison dispersing into the soil, the whole earth once countless living beings, the whole earth countlessly living beings having died. Walt Whitman: “This Compost,” first read at the corner of Clinton and Mulberry in 2005. Whitman knew the whole earth was compost of the dead become beautiful, fruitful, flowering.

The white housecat died. The children were told. The seven year-old girl fell apart into grief. The four year-old girl tried to understand it. Some part of her told her this death could be interpreted as funny, because it did not fit into any sense of things. Things that did not fit into any sense of things made you laugh, yet something about this event could not make her laugh. She kept saying, “It’s not funny.” Said it in puzzlement, sounding almost dazed.

They wrapped the housecat in an old towel and buried her beneath the rain tree to the side of the driveway, south of the hibiscus, beneath the asparagus ferns. This burial is one way living beings become place, the daughters were told, beloved family pet placed in the earth to provide nutriment to the ferns and the lilies and the rain tree.

When you look up into the rain tree in the next years, you will see the cat having become the branches, the leaves, the bountiful golden blooms. The daughters learned that living beings always become place. The energy of their living disperses into all the elements of place around them. The particles of their bodies nourish all surrounding living things. This teaching is mystical, and this teaching is biochemical, two opposing adjectives not really opposing, synthesis.

That’s what the housecat nourishing the tree also represents:


First the great rain tree overhanging Mulberry Street died and the tree surgeons took it down. Then the great rain tree that absorbed the housecat died and the tree surgeons took it down too. Once a wrought-iron marble-top patio table with iron chairs sat beneath that tree and a dad wrote a song for his daughters about the bees in the blooms of the tree. But it was okay that this tree too had gone. It had been nourished and it would nourish.

The asparagus ferns remain and the rain tree roots that extended as far below ground as the tree extended aboveground remain and nourish the ferns, as do the housecat’s remains. The Turk’s Cap Hibiscus froze down to the ground and deferred a comeback until July. It was surely dead, but it was alive. Once again the hummingbirds will come to its funneled and convolved red blooms.

You map a place like this nourishing synthesis by saying you turn north by the pear tree whose fruit ferments the soil and come to the cedar that so deeply absorbed all the children who climbed it, turn westward to where the rain tree was, where the grass and the ferns and the lilies and the dollar weeds and the earthworms absorb the extensive old root structure and the body of a once loved and still loved family animal. You understand how such attachment and such love have synthesized the soil since time had not yet begun to be time. Then this place becomes an epicenter of ancient truths, making our struggling easier by reducing its magnitude in the face of such bigger and more beautiful things.