A poem a week until the entire book is blogged. See also Collected Poems

Monday, April 24, 2017

J. S. Bach

She turned up the weeds without pity, spreading
their roots before the sun. Most of them died,
though a few tenacious grasses rolled over

when she was not looking, and sucked earth
till she found them skulking about, and banished them
to the heap with the egg shells and old tea leaves.

Returning to the scene of the massacre, she placed
a five-tined fork before her, pointed toward
the earth's core. On its step she placed her boot's

sole, and drove its teeth home, tearing living soil.
She did this many times, and in her hearing,
the dark loam whispered in protest. But what

was she to do? One must eat, and the white seeds
in their packet were waiting for the sun.
She carried a blue denim bag at her side,

zippered it open, feeling about in its depths
like the housewife at the station platform
seeking her ticket for the last train --

Seizing her prize, she held it in a soiled palm,
reading the runes of inscription:
"Date of last frost"; "zone three," "days

to maturity." How many days now to her own
maturity? Not to be thought of. Her hand
trembled. Tearing the thin paper rind,

she tipped out contents: a shirtfront
of buttons. Five seeds to a hill she counted,
pinching their graves over them: three hills.

And on to other tasks. The rainmaker
whispered over hilled earth all
the zone's days to maturity, and the date

of first frost held true. Almost forgotten in the rush
of gathering in others: beans and corn, tomatoes--
she sought them last in October, the golden

fruits of that planting. Her other crops
talk to her; the Hubbards never do. (What are they
dreaming at, over there? She brings out the knife.)

Now it is March, she remembers having gathered
the silent, sulking Hubbards. How are they faring?
A look into the pantry reveals them,

dour and uncommunicative, all
huddled like bollards on the high shelf.
She chooses one to halve on the kitchen block.

Scooping out seeds to dry and roast later,
she bakes the halves till soft, slipping off skins
per Rombauer & Becker. "Dice them,

and in a mixing bowl add butter, brown sugar,
salt, ginger, and move the lot to the mixer,
remembering to add milk." With a bowl

of silent Hubbard thus richly dressed,
she goes to the living room, asking blessing
of the gods of the steel fork and the weeds,

the rainmaker, the packet of white seeds,
booted foot and blue denim bag
and the longtime summer sun, eating,

listening to a fugue by J. S. Bach.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Lettuce in Winter

The potting room was a miserable dank
shed, trash-chocked, roofed in plastic, blackberries
ingrown amid bedlam. she dragged it all into

the light, sifting for tools or nails, then
consigning the rest to dump runs. With one son,
the quiet one, she roofed the room with scraps,

tucking, there, or here, oddly-sized old windows.
To the south, a sliding door turned on its side
served for greenhouse glass. A friend's offer

of a chimney to salvage solved the question of how
to floor. With her other son, the tall one, she
rented a long-legged ladder for picking bricks

from the air, frightened at every ragged breath.
They piled them by the plant-room door, and the girl,
last child, brimful of jokes and laughter, brought

bricks to her from the pile, which she set face up
in a herringbone pattern. They swept sand and mortar
into the cracks, and danced in the sunbeams then.

Now for a bench, new-painted green for the color
of wishing, and pots of all sizes, flats too,
with a tall can for watering. She hankered for lettuce

in winter, and sowed the flats in October. After
a month, wild geese and their musical throats gone south,
she noted her seedlings spindly and sad, so taking

hammer and two-by sixes, built a quick cold frame
with the other half of the always helpful sliding
door. By the sunny south wall in the duck pen she framed it,

and dibbled the seedlings within. They liked that,
but a darkness comes on in December; after a full
day, full week, one comes home exhausted, to eat,

to sleep, not to water gardens. One thing
only has saved the lettuce: the ducks do not like
coming in for the night. She goes into the dark

to disturb them; they rush about complaining;
the madwoman hops and chuckles. She locks them away
from coyotes, and turns, as in afterthought, to visit

her seedlings. By feel she gives them water, her hands
stretching toward summer in the unseen leaves.




Monday, April 10, 2017

Press Run

She'll choose two cans of color, exploring them
for the soft caramel of good set, putting aside
flakes of air-dried dross with her inking knife.

One, a can of orange stuff, she's been given
for imprinting brew-pub six-packs; the knife
scoops up a dollop and ferries it to the disk.

The other is your standard black; the smallest
bubble of this she'll add to the orange, and stir,
in hope of a decent brown. A heave of the flywheel

begins the inking-up: the disk turns a bit
with each revolution of the wheel, and the ink,
smashed paper-thin by rollers, spreads evenly

across its face, painting it, painting the rollers,
as her foot pumps the treadle, and her face
admires, as it always does, the view from here,

of garden dressed in straw, of mountain air
training the rainbow windsock northward,
of Jasper Mountain becoming a hill of gold

in the sunset. Gathering the furniture, reglets,
quoins, quoin key, and the new magnesium cut,
she locks the chase, fastens it to the bed, shoves

the wheel, this time with impression lever on,
and lets the cut kiss the clean tympan paper
with an image. Around this image she sets quads,

tympan bales, and bits of makeready, and prepares
the stacked sheets to be fed from the feed board
into the maw of the Chandler & Price, known

to pressmen for a hundred fifty years as the
Hand Snapper. She reaches for the radio's knob.
Rachmaninoff? Damn. Oh, well, turn

wheel, pump treadle, lean forward, lean back,
click-click, click CLACK, work-and-turn,
deliver the finished sheets to the delivery board,

admire mountain, lean forward, lean back.
Rachmaninoff gives way to Mozart's glorious
forty-first symphony, and Jasper Mountain

gives way to night, and in the black window
a woman in her sixties, leaning forward,
leaning back, critically appraising the music,

the printing, and herself, click-click, click CLACK,
sour bones and a game leg but a job well done
and the Mozart's Mozart. Four hundred sheets

later, and well into Bruch, the wheel stops,
the chase is unclamped, the disk and rollers
washed up, and rags canned. The reflected

window-crone lifts a sheet of work
to the light, examines impression and matter.
Reaching to silence Bruch, she sees the stilling

silhouette of the rainbow windsock:
it waits for dawn and a fair and lofting wind.




Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Of country folk in August

Whenever we worked at the creekside shed
there was always something else to do
such times as we were stumped, or nails ran short,

or the sun reached round the fir and baked us down
from raftering, roofing, or the like. We leaned,
gossip-like, against the fresh framing

of the walls, sipping solar tea,
watching the edge of a cloud's long skirt
chase the neighbors' horses leisurely

across their pasture, down the camas swale
and up the other side, against the black contrast
of maple-shrouded hills. The horses liked

to amble up to our corner, stand and watch.
We couldn't cure them of the shies,
though we might try with handfuls

of our green grass, or a few choice
coaxing words. They'd check us out:
first one black blink from behind

the forehead blaze, and then another,
cocking their long heads round to see
our self-assured, predatory faces, eyes front,

gazing on them, horse-flesh accountants
by their reckoning. Their flanks
would shiver, and their forefeet stamp,

scoring the earth in a language built of weight.
Some movement would always spook them off:
a silvery chisel hefted, or water bottle sloshed,

spattering sun. They'd hammer up the swale;
Lovingly we'd watch them go, coveting
our neighbors' lands and all that lived thereon,

as country folk in August always do.



Today and Tomorrow

Polyhymnia walks between beds critical of eye, noting the way blades of corn have curled upon themselves, rattling in hardly any breeze...