Family Tree

By Roopa Ramamoorthi
Tuesday December 23, 2008 - 10:27:00 AM

Few weeks ago I spent two days in Mendocino 

tucked away on California’s northern coast 

Heard the waves lashing the rocks, saw a red-breasted robin 

ready to take flight, a young seal on the rocks 

sunning itself, then setting out for a swim 

When I hiked in fern canyon  

I touched the trunk 

Of one sturdy redwood tree 

Climbing the narrow trails, inhaling the misty air 

I saw nobody else out there this Tuesday 

Only those ancient pteridophytes  

Layers upon layers of green 

Beckoning and bewitching from the other side of time 


I descended back to pygmy forest 

Nature’s bonsai of acorn and cypress 

Stunted trees adapted to the saline soil 

five hundred thousand years old 

The landscape here became more stark, less serene 

I stood transported to a different tree, a different time 

A photocopy in charcoal black, empty white and shades of gray 

From five full years ago. It could have been  

a Japanese artist’s ink brush drawing  

A single tree standing on a winter’s night, severe and still 

Or a botanist’s sketch of a new species 

with nodules narrowing four branches 

But no, it was my mother’s arteries 

Captured from her angiography 

In Jaslok hospital, Mumbai 

soon after her heart attack 


I took that image—consulted cardiologists  

In Palo Alto and San Francisco 

A month later she became ashes sprinkled in the Godavari River 

Traveling to where the Arabian sea kisses the star-studded sky 

Becoming engulfed in the universe’s eternal canopy 

A black and white sketch that still breathes in a cardboard box of mine 

Along with the torn black book of her recipes and her childhood photos 

One of her sitting in her chubby frock at one 

Another of her watering young saplings 

as a girl of eleven 

One more at twenty-four 

Holding her newborn baby 

standing next to a budding jasmine tree