Better Would Be Ume

Gail Gutradt



[T]he golden chain tree
which grew for years in my back yard
died this Fall.
I let it flower until the end,
when just one branch
dropped garlands the color of goldfinches.
Even so I kept the feeders full
until, with no more leaves to shelter them,
the finches, too, stopped coming.

We sawed it down.
I miss its stark calligraphy,
its peeling bark,
tortured by beetle bore and fungus,
dropping punctuation in the snow.

Come Spring I’ll choose a tree
to fill the emptiness
and celebrate the birds’ return with flowers.
It must grow quickly—
quick as days now.
I think of sakura,
so resonant of brevity,
but better would be ume,
that plum of puckered prunes,
which blooms in snow
and is tenacious
as a vinegared old woman
made shy again
by one last blush of love,
who only lately
how much there isworth cleaving to.

So come,
and cut a branch of ume.
Place it in a vase,
just so.
Share tea,
and watch the blossoms open
before a painted landscape.

kyoto journal logo red


Gail Gutradt

Author's Bio

Gail Gutradt was the author of ‘In A Rocket Made of Ice’, a touching memoir of life in a Cambodian orphanage where children were just discovering that they might not die, but might instead be part of the first generation to grow up with HIV/AIDS. Her stories, articles and poems have appeared in Kyoto Journal, Utne Reader and Ashé. Her first Kyoto Journal article, “The Things We’ve Gone Through Together,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.


Painting: Yoroboshi (The Begger Monk) by Shinomura Kanzan, 1915