Sunday, October 9, 2016

Some things will

In a garden's grave, life remains: beets
Never pulled may be pulled now, to boil

And put back, for the flock to discover;

Greens have carried on and are taken
And dehydrated, or left for the goose to strip;
Red highlights show missed tomatoes;
Dense thickets of dead vines give beans.
Even the weeds, that had defeated her,
Now yield rich heads of seed for hens.
She walks about, coat-wrapped, scanning

Ground for spuds rolled out by hen feet.
Rarely, rewardingly, a ripe winter's squash
Awaits discovery. Gone to seed last year,
Viable chard and kale erupt now
Even as it were March, and are welcomed.

Little remains of her apple crop,
If the early varieties are to be believed,
Filling the cellar as they have, and
Even the kitchen cabinet, with sealed jars.

Rummaging round the orchard, she spies,
Excusing themselves for tardiness, a
Mighty wall of Granny Smiths. She might
Avail herself of them, but her arms ache.
In winter one wants rest. She turns
Now houseward. Her hands hope
Some things will wait for spring.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

What rain is for

The last three summers, as she recalls them, 
Her heavy-clay bit of earth opened hexagonally;
Into the depths she stared, seeing dry darkness
So desiccated, she fancied worms and millipedes

In despair had decamped, seeking other worlds.
She poked at crevasses with her stick, finding bottom

Well deeper than twelve inches. Not knowing
How to garden in any but a rain forest, she
Attacked books and websites for some scheme
The budget could be stretched for: shade cloths,

Raised beds, huge-log hugelkulturs, keyhole beds.
All were possible, but her hands, old, worked
In fits and starts; her money allocated elsewhere.
Now she startles, looking at her night sky, so steeped

In stars all summer, finding it black and close.
Some drops, like bad boys' spitballs, carom off her 

Face. More, and now she's happily drenched in her
Old nightgown, dancing slow circles. Autumn proves
Real at last. This dance is what rain is for.

Friday, September 2, 2016

See it through

One should not have an orchard and
Not care for it; so she tries,
Even lurches from the depths of a chair

She's found at some thrift, pre-softened; from
Her house, warm or cool as she might wish,
Out into too much sun or too much rain; from
Under the kind roof of a porch she'd built,
Leaving tool after tool there to gather
Dust and webs, marks of a new will to

Neglect. Beyond the weed-bent fence, an
Orchard of sorts awaits her care, each
Task having skipped two years at least. 

Hands grasp lopper and saw. She visits
Apple, quince, pear, plum, cherry, clipping
Vines, tall weeds, watersprouts, suckers;
Even designates branches for her stove.

As the forenoon warms, she strips off
Now her hat, next jacket, shirt and gloves,

Old skin offered to thorns, thistles, 
Rough bark. Really she'd meant to hire it done, 
Children of neighbors being short on cash.
Habit, she could call it. Habit, and the way
Apples come best that see right sun,
Ripe enough to pay her for some pains.
Do a thing yourself to see it through.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Who lives

She drags her rusty kneeler as way opens
amid plants knee high, wetting her blue
trousers in dew, as clouds decide 

to open or not, as the morning star
recedes and hides itself, with a sliver
of new moon, in day. Poppies

have not yet awakened, nor daisies.
She kneels and kneels again, eyeing
potato vines, chard, kale, spinach, beets

to see are they hiding pretenders beneath
their skirts: thistle, geranium, nipplewort,
even nascent blackberries, ash trees, an oak.

Most of all, she seeks out bindweed, a long
vine snaking from place to place, climbing, 
smothering fruitful things. She knows

she's prejudiced, but her rationale is: 
bindweed's not for eating; raspberries are. Her
hands elect who dies, who lives today.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


She went to fight bindweed
among cabbages, peas,
borage, arugula,

potatoes, raspberries
and such. Distracted by
thistles, as they are more

easily removed, she
worked an hour, then eased
ponderously into  

her cracked resin chair, out
of breath, watching two gold-
finches having it out

on a mossy fence post.
What is not said in six
syllables is silence.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

These are not the tomatoes

These are not the tomatoes she wanted,
Heirlooms such as Cherokee Purple, or
Even Brandywines. But the clerk only
Sells what's brought in, finds labels, wands
Each three-inch pot through as she would

A bag of chips or box of three penny nails.
Really, the old woman muses, I should have
Ended my day at the seedsman, but it's not

Near here -- what, twenty miles? So I've
Opted for the discount store again, to buy
These things that hurt my soul: hybrids.

There's this about them, they do produce
Heavy fruits that please her folks and friends
Easily enough, and in larger numbers. But

To her there's something in them lacking.
Old varieties taste of the eyes of young
Men, of weeping, of laughter, of
A child's anger at being teased, of
The confusion of having one's braid pulled.
On the hybrids she can't say as much.
End to youth, beginning of sameness; a
Safety that came to her too soon.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The cool-weather plants

The cool-weather plants have bolted, and she
Has had to gather the saddest cases.
Even kale, not last year's but this year's, and 

Chard are defying the routine she has,
Over decades, established as garden law.
Often she walks through now, knife in hand,
Lopping flowering stalks, vainly trying

Whether some leaves can be kept soft
Even as the heat chases her dream of spring 
Away again. Like last year. Like the year before.
There's something to be said for radishes,
Her bowl tells her, which is that it is not
Empty. With arugula and rocket, leaves
Ripped from already woody stems, snipped,

Piled loosely, steamed lightly, stirred
Lazily with duck egg on hot iron
And tipped out onto a wrap, she'll
Not starve today. Not that she would;
Times were, she, younger, put things by.
Shelves filled, bins groaned. A fear of

Hunger to come, of poverty, keeps her
Away from the cellar nowadays. She
Values what's to be had from sun to sun.
Even in real winters, there had always

Been something to scrape for under snow.
Over her now emptied bowl she, sated,
Lingers, watching shadows move. It's 
That sun that worries her, drying
Even early crops. Could even her
Death come as rain, that would bless.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

At her western window

At her western window, she's stitching.
The needle pricks her sometimes. She moves

Her hand aside to not bleed on silk.
Even as she works, her waxed thread in
Rows appearing like commas, she sees a

Western meadowlark pounce in tall grass
Ever growing, unmowed, outside. When
She stops, peering over thick lenses
To note the meadowlark has a grub, to her
Ears come, faintly, short songs of its mate.
Reaching for her scissors, she snips a tail,
Nudges it out of sight behind a stitch.

When this row is done, she'll ask her mate
If it will do. If not, she'll turn her mother's
Needle and pull thread, loop by loop 
Down to the place her mind wandered.
O meadowlark, I must look away!
Wonder does not always aid one's work.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Five plants in

Five plants in, her back gives out, an
Ill omen, given her age. This
Very thing, her father had predicted;
Even said: you will lose interest in

Planting, in harvesting, in putting up.
Lately she sees what he meant: politics
And global change have consumed her;
Now she sits much more, immobilized by
Things she can only warn of, not repair.
She feels some obligation to the young

In all countries, even of peoples she will
Never meet. Some tell her it's not

Her business if some foreign child drowns.
Even were that so, she would still feel it,
Rummage in her purse, send something.

Back in her garden, unfinished flats
And pots of spring greens wonder where she is.
Could she have died at last, that old thing,
Killed by her curiosity, and left their roots

Groping for water, circling round
In dark commercial soil? The 
Very weeds miss her companionable warfare.
Even the birds and squirrels, not chased
She has let down; they lose their edge.

Out in the mailbox, seed catalogs pile up.
Under the house, leaks spring.
This is how it is. Life moves on.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

How she knows

How she knows she is not useless yet:
Old cornstalks must be shattered right
Where they stood green, to feed worms

She knows are waiting in darkness.
Her hens wait too, for water, for feed,
Especially for deadnettles, nipplewort,

Kale and comfrey. Some hummingbirds
Now arriving check the lilac for their
Own nectar bottle that hung there
While last spring, summer and fall
Slipped past. There are wasp queens

She finds sleeping in her woodpile;
Her heart skips a beat as she sees
Each one, for she fears them, yet

Interests herself in their rest and
Safety, for the good they do her garden.

Now she mucks out her barn, for
Of her things she values rich mulch, almost
To distraction, most. But slowly;

Under beams and eaves hang cobwebs,
Sacs of eggs suspended in each, waiting
End of winter, not to be disturbed.
Lest she forget to serve all equitably,
Every bucket of soiled barn water
She carries to her trees to tip out: 
Something to stave off drought.

Yes, she's earned the right, she thinks,
Even in this so solitary place,
To call herself an asset to her friends.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Spring springs

Spring springs upon her unawares;
Perhaps she thought snow would drift
Right up to her window, as it should
In February, as in her memory
No such month escaped some white.
Going forth in a sleeveless shift

She pockets up seeds for flats,
Pulls out dank bins of soil,
Reaches for small pots, sets hope
In light. Such April ploys are
Not to be counted on, she knows --
Guessing random frosts
Still may spring upon her unawares. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

What was hers, but is not hers just now

What was hers, but is not hers just now,
Having suffered a rising tide of voles
And other rodents (she does not doubt), is
The potting shed/solarium, a domain in

Which she'd reigned, she thought, for decades.
All of it, she'd built herself. Gathering
Slats of rough hewn barn wood, windows,

Heaps of antique bricks, a long green bench,
Ever more pots and flats, bins and trowels,
Royally she'd treated herself to her heaven,
Seedlings doing as she'd have them do.

But then: disaster. Peas and beans tucked
Under skeins of soil vanished by ones and
Threes -- whole flats of corn plowed up.

Is there nothing to be done, she wonders,
Short of slaughter by nefarious means?

Not the first option. She casts about among
Old tosswares in corners and on shelves.
This rolled-up screening might do. Shears in

Hand, she measures as one measures cloth,
Ever minding the selvage, to create caps
Rodents might decline to chew.
Slipping these into place, adding to each

Just one stone per corner, using
Up the Buddha cairns she'd made
Stacked here and there round the room.
The precept honored, she waters all,

Not neglecting to sprinkle stones.  
Outcomes must be as they must be.
We find well that find we do not reign. 

It begins with mare's tails

It begins with mare's tails: wisps of ice
That spread, ghostly fingers from

Beyond the southwestern horizon; her
Ears feel the chill as she is planting bulbs.
"Go inside," her chapped hands urge her,
"Inside, your steaming kettle waits."
"Not yet," she replies. In her mind's eye
She watches thousands of daffodils bloom

Where grass grew. She must plant hundreds
If her dream will breathe. Altocumulus,
Those clouds like schools of fish, arrive.
Her hands are hurting her now; cold clay

Milking moisture from gapped skin.
As she bends, shovel in one hand,
Round brown balls of life in the other,
Each destined for a hole along her fence,
She senses wind lifting skirts of

The cottonwoods and willows. Raindrops
Are arriving now, slanting through trees,
Investing her sleeves and hair with wet.
Leaving off at last, she, crutching on her
Shovel, pivots toward tea, book and fire.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

That time when there is yet nothing

That time when there is yet nothing,
Her skills being at rest, synchronized
And sympathetic with soil's sleep --
Timid buds of lilac or jonquil still

Tucked within themselves -- she wonders
If she's even a subsistence woman, is
Mistaken in that as so much else, as when
Even deep snow cannot efface what

Winter erases when it is nearest spring.
Her hands stretch to packaged seeds;
Enter into bargains with their quietude.
Now? Now? Now? Now? she asks them,

Though she knows they will not move.
Here by a cold window she spreads
Envelopes on her table: peas, beets.
Radishes will be first, nearest the house.
Even now she smells them, lifted, bitten.

Is there nothing that can be done?
She asks for the hundredth time.

You'd think the mud would dry a little,
Evenings come later, mornings earlier,
The birds nest and sing, daisies open!

No. Tools rest in their ranks, sharpened,
Oiled. Clouds pass, low, lightless, sulking.
The arbor's done, fences, orchard, 
Heaps heaped. All she needs today
Is that this blank month turn a little
Nearer sun, before her plot of earth
Grazes on forgetfulness too soon.

Saturday, January 2, 2016


This time of year that room is not much visited.
Its herringbone-patterned floor of worn bricks
tilts here and there where rodents have made inroads.

Homemade flats lie heaped in corners; stacks of cells
lean sleepily together; insulation dangles;
tools hang, festooned with webs and dust. Sometimes

when the door has been set ajar, a towhee wanders in,
becomes confused at light from so many windows,
beats itself silly, then rests, is eventually found

and shown the way out. There's not much
an old lady can do but wait, watching for
earlier suns to rise, for petrichor,*

for that sudden dislocation brought on
by stepping into sunshine by a southern wall.
Then, after one jonquil blooms by way of

affirmation, she'll step in, rearrange things,
dust her work bench and stool, bring seeds,
open the soil bin, grab a pot, begin.

*The odor of dry earth moistened by rain.