Saturday, March 29, 2014

It was not enough


i t  w a s  n o t  e n o u g h

                                   to see, in colorful maga-
zines and costly books, the country homes
and garden walks that men and women build

who have only ready money and a few ideas.
I too wished to sit sometimes drinking
tea by firelight, admiring a work of beams

and plaster, hanging fruit and herbs, good books
liberally strewn, and a sleeping cat (or two).
To which end we labored without cash, days

and even nights with saw and chisel, scraper,
hammer, knife, and plane, using such wood,
such paint, and even such nails as came to hand.

Our friends and friends of our friends remembered us
when their surplus had to go, and I went forth
with battered truck and pry bar, gathering decks

and fences long past keeping for those without
the patience to rebuild. We have learned
to watch for stones of certain weight and shape;

to lay a course of ninety-year-old brick,
to scrap a window sash to get the glass
for cutting, and to fill the oddly angled wall

with joint compound. When supplies ran short,
we turned to the acre of ground, and forked and spaded,
laying out long beds, piling them with straw,

covering the paths with leaves of oak, maple
and ash. Seeds bought last year at sale,
ten cents a pack, were sown with trembling hand.

They all did well: the new shelves are fat
with harvest. This all has come late to me. Now
we do sit in chimney-corner like the English cottage-

keepers, tea in hand and cat in lap,
ready to peruse an act of Winter's Tale
or book of Faerie Queene, only to find

our eyes no longer focus on ten-point type
for an act or a book at a time. I call the youngest
child; she reads to me from Sendak, or

our mutual favorite, Potter, haltingly,
but with a will, improving as she goes.
As she sounds out words, I watch a knot

of fir collapse into the coals, and fall
to long, light sleep, with not unpleasant dreams.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Brightly colored packets


b r i g h t l y  c o l o r e d  p a c k e t s

She spreads the brightly colored packets
round the table, and speaks of hope.
I lift a flat paper envelope, with its picture

of a perfect beet, and shake it like a rattle,
"Hey-ya!" She sits across, nodding and smiling,
and hefts a half pound of peas, offering its promise,

like incense, to the gods of our little life.
We've drawn out and made domains of the gardens.
The east one, very small, is on the highest ground,

and drains superbly. It is all hers. She loves
to dig in early spring and late in the fall,
coaxing brassicas, beets, chard, sugar snap peas

to grow in long succession through the year.
The south garden, sheltered from hot winds,
but prone to wetness, is mine. I've raised my beds

high as I can pile them, tossed away stones,
and spread out golden chunks of bales of straw,
redolent of the ducks who've nested on them.

Here tomatoes and sunflowers, limas and vine crops
broil in the sun by day and rest by night.
The north garden, on the only flat, gets sun,

but stays colder longer. It is the largest,
so we share it, and here we fight. I look for
long rows of corn and beans, and always more

tomatoes. She tries new things I can't pronounce,
and seeks the permanence of berries: raspberry
is her favorite thing under the sun, I dunno.

We fight over water, when to use, how much.
We fight over planting depth, shade, what
to harvest when, and how long to blanch beans.

We fight all the way to the bedroom; its north window
opens onto the windswept beds. In plain view
the rustling rainbow windsock

presides there over the rustling corn, and our
fighting turns to sudden loving. We hold
each other's life, like seed, in careworn hands,

and sleep, like seed, until the sun's return.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

We went to see the place

w e  w e n t  t o  s e e   t h e  p l a c e

                                                            in Walterville.
Before we had even seen the house, the neighbor,
a man of some seventy years, bent with woods work,

stopped to chat. "The house isn't much, but the soil
is good. Oh, it has some Scotch broom, I know,
on the pasture, but you can get ahead of that

if you keep after it. I helped the last folks with
their fence, but they wanted the gate right here,
where the tractor couldn't get in. They'd no sense."

We asked why no fence between his place
and "ours." "Oh, I don't need a fence. Don't want
your apples, and you're welcome to mine."

The sort of thing we'd hoped. We walked over
the pasture till we reached the incense cedars,
each one five feet thick, and found a hanging

branch worn smooth by generations of children's
swinging. Good, and the valley here was wide,
with the mountains stretching east and west,

and sunshine access on short winter days.
But the house wouldn't do; bedrooms dark
and tiny, with telltale smell throughout

of dry rot underneath. Desire for land
sets one dreaming. One acre, three acres--
not enough to farm, but who can farm

with these prices? It becomes a privilege
just to set out onions, and a cow
is not mere luxury, but even a kind of madness

to actually hope for. We have cross fenced
our high-taxed valleys so that to walk straight
for five minutes can't be done, and all

the while buying our produce from five hundred
miles away, where the tractors have as many
wheels as your freeway rig. I want to put

my hands into the ground and make it yield
enough to make my children grow, and not
grow poor in the process. We drove home,

and quarreled along the way about land,
the way people do who have gone to see
not only what they could not have afforded,

but ought not to have desired. The ducks
were glad to see us; she watered them, and I
picked tomatoes, and we kissed and made up,

and lay awake in our small suburban house
beneath the wheeling moon and stars. Why is it,
I wondered then and wonder now, that no one

ever seems to know when they have enough?
When sleep came, there was a vivid dream.
I met again the old man with no fence,

and saw him pointing to the earth. "This
was river bottom in here not too long ago,"
I heard him say. "When we drilled down forty

feet, we hit a driftwood tree, even though
the river now is half a mile away." He opened
up the earth somehow, and showed me the tree,

still caught amid the smooth and rounded stones
deep beneath the topsoil, which now I saw
was dark and rich, as he had said it was.

I reached to touch the soil, and awoke.
The northbound train was rumbling by the house,
carrying produce from industrial farms,

and I was drenched in sweat, and found the moon
had drifted far across the window to the west.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

she sells books

s h e  s e l l s  b o o k s

from nine to six. They are
good books, well bound, well written, colorful
to the eye, and children love them, but

the town is poor. She sits waiting for hours
for one grandmother to come in and buy one book
for a favored grandchild. The owner of the store

is her friend; she cannot leave her just now, but the store,
she knows, is not her place in life. All
she has ever wanted is to farm: at evening,

when the dinner things are cleared, and the hot sun
drops behind the cottonwood, she farms.
Food for the ducks, and soapy water for broccoli;

old lettuce gone to seed comes out; the hay
is rearranged, and fall peas go in. She stops
only to hear the geese pass overhead,

then bends among her plants until the stars,
first one and then another, leap and are caught
in the hair of approaching night, so like her hair.

She comes in, soiled to the elbows, leans against
the table, extending an open palm. "Look,"
she says, her eyes afire. "Marigold seeds!"