Sam Alvarez

in the backyard, a twotrunked red oak
has grown like a solemn V my whole life.

a month before i leave home for the last time—my older brother
already long gone—my mom begins a project

of sorting through every photograph she’s taken
since we were born, cataloguing & organizing & making more

digestible the life she’s trapped on film. duffels cover the floor
& i’m folding shirts onto my bed when she calls me

to the dinner table where, hands shaking a little, she’s gazing
into a grainy, lurid 8×10 stilllife

of my brother and i—probably ages five & eight—
poking our heads through the V in the red oak, beaming 

into the camera, into her now
wet eyes.

my boys, she whispers. 

we’re small humans in the ink & the trunks are
just timid fenceposts framing our babyfaces.

i take my mom’s hand & we walk out back, making
our way to the red oak’s base—

now two broad telephone poles splitting towards the sky.
we planted this right after losing noah, she whispers

again, almost to herself. she’s never told me
they named the child 

she lost in the third trimester, years
before my older brother was born. 

she’s never told me why they put this sapling
in the ground. i put my hand on one of the trunks

before we walk inside & sit at the table
& look into the photo again.

her boys, i think.

Sam Alvarez is a saxophonist and writer born in Austin, Texas who’s just trying to make nice things.