John Olivares Espinoza

Falling From the Tree of Heaven

I lift my weight’s worth of crushed oleander leaves in a can.

I climb the peak of the 8-foot ladder leaning aside the dump truck. 


I shake the crush out of the can like cereal out of its box.

I pause, catch a breath of dry air again, watch my brothers below,


My two brothers slowly stacking tree branches on their shoulders.

Father scales a ladder ant-like, disappears into the tree.


Manuel stands spread on two branches above him, trimming away.

The ailanthus bough falls to the ground, locks of hair from a gardener’s shears. 


One drops on Father—he plummets, crashes not on the piles of branches,

But slams across a line of brick wall knee-high. I should run to him. I can’t.


We stare at him lying there, his body bent like the hedge clipper’s handle—

Those same clippers, just moments before, he held in his hands, up in the tree.


Father lies stunned on the wall as his back bridges the walkway.

Can you move?  Feel your legs?  Wiggle your fingers? 


Questions learned from reading comic books—

When Batman’s back snapped over an archenemy’s knee.


We keep asking questions, to keep from hearing the wrong answer,

Because it’s him. My father. The blue and black that is not Batman.


Albert calls for Mr. Howard, the owner of the home. He limps out

With a metal cane, an oxygen tank holstered at the hip, tubes run through his nose. 


After a few minutes and half-glasses of whiskey,

Father sits up against the will of his lumbar, latissimus dorsi.


His face shifts from red to white, as if a tomato turned to an onion before us.

Father gains back his blush, as well as thanks for his simple life,


And has us resume our work. He’ll return in two days, leaving us wondering

If his spine were an iron rod, or if in heaven, an angel’s arm is sore from its catch.