Every spring when the cherry trees on our corner of Harlem are in blossom, we marvel, not just at the riot of pink but at one particular tree. Unlike other cherry trees right nearby that are uniformly shaped, this one is lopsided. The branches on the north side seem to reach out over the sidewalk, almost double the length of the branches on its south side. The arching branches provide shade to the local guys who, for years, have set up tables under it to play dominos and cards, while they listen to Motown from a portable player, for hours on end.
What makes the tree grow that way? It can’t be reaching toward sun nor water; the conditions of the nearby trees are similar.
Locals speculate that the trees grown in response to the people who hangout under it, their music and talk and joy in the wild magic of the street. One woman said “It protects the men.”
These ancient haiku apply seem to have been written for them:
What a strange thing!
to be alive
beneath cherry blossoms
In the cherry blossom’s shade
there’s no such thing
as a stranger
…though the guys play Motown, which we love….
Haiku by Kobayashi Issa (18th C); Dancing in the Street by Martha and the Vandellas