The Hanging Tree

It makes me smile to see people bending down to unleash all their dogs the moment they get into the park. The dogs trot or lope off or linger close by. We follow or call them. Our hearts go out under the big sky, feeling every one of the dogs’ bounding stretches, every urgent bark, every high leap, every curled up mop of fur and bone who clumps at our feet. While they do these things, we are standing and often telling each other stories.

I recently met a man who has lived in Fort Greene for forty years. Daniel’s three dogs are large. He carries plastic bags with him for picking up trash.. One morning at 9:00, my dog leashed and his walking nearby, we were making our way to the South Portland Street exit. Straight ahead many, many yards away was the playground with its red roofs and yellow poles. He told me that there used to be a Hanging Tree in that exact spot. The colonists had used it. He’d found this out from an old lady. There she was in a wide, flat-brimmed hat sitting on a bench. She thanked him for picking up trash. She told him about the Hanging Tree. They said their good-byes and he went on.

He encountered some ladies who said to him, “Do you know who that was?”

“An old lady.”

“No, that was Marianne Moore the poet. She never talks to us.”

Daniel glanced at me. His glasses were glinting in the sun, making it hard to see his eyes. “Maybe they weren’t the kind of people she would talk to,” he said, trying not to smile. I haven’t seen him since that day, four weeks ago. He’s in his seventies, I think, and he told me he has health issues. I couldn’t see any. I told him I’d love to write down his Marianne Moore story and show it to him first. We don’t have each other’s phone numbers and he doesn’t have e-mail so I haven’t had the chance to show it to him. But I love the story so much, I hope he won’t mind that I’ve posted it already. I can’t wait to see him in the park and show it to him.


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