In the Orchard
It's not so much a departure as an arrival,
Or rather, a having arrived – as when, out driving,
You pass an old orchard on a southward hill,
Old apple trees aslant in heaps of prunings.
For Sale. What do you know of apples? Still,
One morning you wake up under a different ceiling
And feeling that you've not chosen but been
Are something less than owner, more than guest.
You fertilize and mow, attend the slow
Growth of apples readying for harvest,
And settle into place like leaves or snow,
Unfold like a letter delivered as addressed.
The time has come to revise
Line by line by line
The rough draft of my field
Till down the green grass lies,
Obedient to design;
And the lovely scruffy tufts
Of flowers, they, too, must yield.
It may be as simple as this:
To bend and part the soil;
To scatter tiny seeds;
To pat them down; to cover them;
To stand beside the row
Each morning, holding a hose,
And watch the water soak in.
To expect no gratitude,
But to know that what is needed
Is what you have to give.
To watch the lettuce grow.
To watch you watch.
Prayer for December
Under this August sun
As plushy overblown
As some prize pumpkin in the gods' high garden,
Corn and tomatoes, row after row after row,
Lettuce, squash, beans
Blur in the sweat of our brows.
Clusters of grapes like udders droop from vines
And the burden of apples
bends down the apple boughs
Till the boughs break from the burden,
As we bend to breaking now.
Thin December, come with your landscape
By a reticent sun, come with the comfort of snow.
Homesteader in the Orchard
What I have learned in these ten years, he thinks,
As he lays the teeth of the saw against the apple,
Is how to kill – without haste, without hesitation.
First the chickens, hung by the feet
from a pine branch,
Pinioned in plastic milkjugs with the bottoms cut out
So they couldn't flap as the blood drained
into the bucket.
What I've learned in these ten years, he thinks,
As he draws the saw through
its first irreversible stroke,
Is to kill without pleasure, to kill with gratitude.
The pigs next, fattened five months
on grain and windfalls,
Then lured into cages, wrestled onto a pickup
And driven away, their squeals in the
ears like knives
Through the opened beaks of chickens
into the brain.
The sawteeth expose the orangey flesh of the tree,
A tree he knows well, as old as he or older,
But if he doesn't cut down old trees,
where can he set
The new of who may come after.
What I've learned,
He thinks, in these ten years is how to die.
Now trees sprawl at all angles,
Cortland, and he among them. In ten years,
When they've long been cut up and split and
have vanished as smoke
The smoke of blossom will float on this slope
Potentially, might be ...