Meditation on a Grapefruit

To wake when all is possible
before the agitations of the day
have gripped you
To come to the kitchen
and peel a little basketball
for breakfast
To tear the husk
like cotton padding        a cloud of oil
misting out of its pinprick pores
clean and sharp as pepper
To ease
each pale pink section out of its case
so carefully       without breaking
a single pearly cell
To slide each piece
into a cold blue china bowl
the juice pooling       until the whole
fruit is divided from its skin
and only then to eat
so sweet
a discipline
precisely pointless       a devout
involvement of the hands and senses
a pause     a little emptiness
each year harder to live within
each year harder to live without
by Craig Arnold (1967-2009)

Grazia Deledda (Italy, 1875-1936)

Grazia Deledda (Italy, 1875-1936)

Here are the opening paragraphs of Deledda’s novel Cenere (Ashes), published in 1904, and below is footage from the silent-film movie based on the novel: It was the night of Midsummer Eve. Oli came forth from the white-walled Cantoniera on the Mamojada road, and hurried away across the fields. She was fifteen, well-grown and beautiful, with very large, very bright, feline eyes of greenish grey, and a sensuous mouth of which the cleft lower lip suggested two ripe cherries. She wore a red petticoat and stiff brocade bodice sustaining and defining her bosom; from the red cap tied under her prominent chin, issued two braids of glossy black hair twisted over her ears. This hair-dressing and the picturesque costume gave the girl an almost Oriental grace. Her fingers were heavily ringed, and she carried long streamers of scarlet ribbon, with which to “sign the flowers of St John,” that is, to mark those bunches of mullein, thyme, and asphodel which she must pick tomorrow at dawn for the compounding of charms and drugs. True, even were the signing omitted, there was small danger of anyone’s touching Oil’s selected plants; the fields round the Cantoniera, where she lived with her father and her little brothers, were completely deserted. Only one tumble-down house was in sight, emerging from a field of corn like a rock out of a green lake.

images2Everywhere in the country round, the wild Sardinian spring was on its death-bed; the flowers of the asphodel, the golden balls of the broom were dropping; the roses showed pale in the thickets, the grass was already yellow; a hot odour of hay perfumed the heavy air. The Milky Way and the distant splendour of the horizon, which seemed a band of far-off sea, made the night clear as twilight. The dark blue heaven and its stars were reflected in the scanty waters of the river. On its bank, Oil found two of her little brothers looking for crickets.
by Grazia Deledda,
translated by Helen Hester Colvill

The Healing Improvisation of Hair

If you undo your do you would
be strange. Hair has been on my mind.
I used to lean in the doorway
and watch my stony woman wind
the copper through the black, and play
with my understanding, show me she could
take a cup of river water,
and watch it shimmy, watch it change,
turn around and become ash bone.
Wind in the cottonwoods wakes me
to a day so thin its breastbone
shows, so paid out it shakes me free
of its blue dust. I will arrange
that river water, bottom juice.
I conjure my head in the stream
and ride with the silk feel of it
as my woman bathes me, and shaves
away the scorn, sponges the grit
of solitude from my skin, laves
the salt water of self-esteem
over my feathering body.
How like joy to come upon me
in remembering a head of hair
and the way water would caress
it, and stress beauty in the flair
and cut of the only witness
to my dance under sorrow’s tree.
This swift darkness is spring’s first hour.

I carried my life, like a stone,
in a ragged pocket, but I
had a true weaving song, a sly
way with rhythm, a healing tone.
by Jay Wright (born 1934)

By the rivers of Babylon
there we sat and wept,
remembering Zion:
on the poplars that grew there
we hung up our harps.

For it was there they asked us,
our captors, for songs,
our oppressors, for joy.
“Sing to us,” they said,
“one of Zion’s songs.”

O how could we sing
the song of the Lord
on alien soil?
If I forget you, Jerusalem
let my right hand wither!

O let my tongue
cleave to my mouth
if I remember you not,
if I prize not Jerusalem
above all my joys!
Psalm 137:1-6

George Bernard Shaw (Ireland, 1856-1950)

George Bernard Shaw (Ireland, 1856-1950)

Below is a scene from My Fair Lady, based on Shaw’s play Pygmalion, published in 1913:

Louis Simpson (born 1923) reads from his poem A Clearing:

Paper Bird

americanrobinEarlier this year I worked with Robin Behn through the writing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Each month she mailed a cassette tape discussing my poems. I asked once if she could e-mail me a lecture she’d given, and she told me they weren’t written down. “I just talk,” she said. And so she “just talked” about my poems, line by line, word by word telling me what she saw in them, clearing the way for me to think about them in a new way.

The poems in this essay are from Robin’s book Paper Bird, published in 1988. I first met her in a workshop in 2007. She sat cross-legged on the couch, listening to each student talk about their experience with poetry. The day I read my poems, nerves got the better of me and I couldn’t finish. Without missing a beat Robin took over. She’s like that, very matter of fact about this serious stuff we call poetry and knew it was better to just keep moving.


My father never said why–
not even to me, the silent one–

but silently, all through my childhood, he never
fixed anything

though the lathing drifted down
through the plaster ceiling

like the planks of a dock
we all lived beneath.

Meanwhile, he seasoned and stirred
his aquariums, his little wet houses;

like a god, he engineered tidal waves, resettlement,
even genetics–guippies’ tails bred

into lavish, ripped flags of countries
our relatives never sent us letters from.

And the house went on with its own
sweet life. The roof turned algae-green, slugs

abided, my bedroom wall cracked
like a cup you lit your lip on.

–The pairs of fish called angels
had rubbery, nerveless lips

and killed each other for beauty
at night when he wasn’t looking.

At breakfast I’d find it: a chunk
of silvery money with whiskers . . .

An angel is dead, I’d say.
And then, as if we were all already angels

and had a right to mourn,
a hush passed through the house:

the smaller fish looked smaller,
hours sucked by like snails,

dust filtered down and we opened
our gills to its mood for days, recycling our own

breathed air;
until finally

I took my allowances–the coins
they’d given me for some good cause–

and went out into the world for the white
paper carton with the wire handle

that grooved my palm as though a fish
with a cut lip were straining

for its life across my life–
line, and brought

the thing back
and set it down in front of him:

the silver, storebought wife
already married to the water.

In this poem, we are building toward the line, An angel is dead, as if this were a family member who died and not a fish in an aquarium. The family seems to live inside those glass walls. Even the walls in the speaker’s room are cracked like the planks of a dock they all live beneath.

Angel Fish (watercolor)

Angel Fish (watercolor)

In a lecture Robin gave called In The Music Room she described her father’s study. He was an English professor, and his study served as sacred space not only for his books but as a place for her to practice and teach flute. Her flute music shared shelf space with his literature and poetry books. Small girls would come and go from their flute lessons while their mothers sat waiting in heated cars. This is what I think of when I read this poem. And in this poem, we see part of the world he seasoned and stirred.

We see the tails of guppies flow by like flags to countries she will one day visit, to poetry books in her father’s room she will one day read, to her own career as an English teacher. She is married to the water of that world. Who wouldn’t want a father like this, an absent-minded professor who cared more about creating an imaginative place for fish to swim than he did household chores. He is the angel she is always trying to replace. It is around his actions in the poem that the sweet life is centered.

Dear Sky

I’ve asked everyone,
but no one has as good a view
as you do over the comings and goings
and livings and dyings of us
here so small on this accidental planet.
I know, I should keep tabs.
Especially in light of the thick fog
the past is always slapping down among us
like deliberate roadblocks
to our obvious desires.
But I thought you might have seen her.
It strikes me this evening, as I see
you’re having a fine old draw
from your expensive cigar–I can see
the dense smoke wafting up through the sunset
from the huge old lips of this Gertrude-
Stein-type guy lounging just
over the horizon where what looks
like mountains is his skirt
between his knees–
I thought maybe you could help,
maybe send up a signal
if you see her . . .

She’s tall, for a woman.
She has a bald spot just above
her left ear that you notice when she’s lying
on her right side, say,
on Sunday mornings when the light
comes in and warms it–
It’s where her brother dared her
to touch her tongue to the spinning lathe
when she was fifteen and she only
got as far as her beautiful hair. I
was sixteen. By then she was older.
So many years older (two at least) that
kissing her was like going
to a very respectable party
where real adult things were being done,
and in the vacant parlor the sun
just sang with it, gushing
into corners that had somehow gotten dark:
the hinged collection box inside the piano bench,
even the slats of darkness
that forbade the piano strings from playing
unwritten, cacophonous songs–

Dear sky,
I keep thinking I’ll be walking through pines
and suddenly I’ll see it:
a clearing just that soft, a spot
that shy, and I’ll look to my left and where
her ear would be is all of her,
and the whole sky a patch like that,
sudden and touchable, and I’ll ask her
in its presence to forgive me now
after so much troubled time.
And because there is no God
that looked down on her that night
she was beaten and her body was consumed
four times, though somehow
she rose and stumbled back in pieces
and into my arms;
and because nothing I could do
could repair her soul
though I flew at it with cloth
with glue with bandages kisses anything
and still there was a rift
between her and her body and therefore
between us
while the criminal crouched at some
boundary of our love,
I think now that passion
should be something like sunlight
while the sky looks on and nothing
in the process asks God to raise
the least hand to bless us.

Dear Sky has a conversational voice wrapped around denial and outrage. It is a poem about a friend who has been raped. In that same lecture, In The Music Room, Robin talked about a friend who had been raped, but I never heard the end of the story because the tape was damaged. I almost called for a replacement but never did. I think I know the end of the story. Rape affects everyone it touches, not only the victim but family members and friends long after it happens.

paperbirdHow do we stop pain in those we love? Why doesn’t heaven stop it? Why does heaven allow it to happen in the first place? That’s what this poem is asking. It’s what we’re all asking, it’s the big question we ask the sky. What are you doing up there? Does my life down here matter to you at all? We look up at heaven where God seems to reside over our destinies, nonchalantly smoking an expensive cigar and enjoying the show.

It would be very traumatic for a young girl to have a friend turn to her after being raped. That helplessness would remain with her forever. We see these two young friends lounging on the horizon of their youths and the lives they will one day lead. What draws me back to the poem again and again is the description of the friend:

She’s tall, for a woman,
She has a bald spot just above
her left ear that you notice when she’s lying
on her right side.

This soft spot on the side of the girl’s head is a compelling detail. It’s where we are all most vulnerable, that soft place we only allow some people to touch. Perhaps it is in our souls, but it is there in all of us and we build walls to protect it. Somehow that place on the girl’s head was violated, touched by someone who only wanted to hurt her. Doesn’t the sky understand how sensitive this place is and how much it needs guarded. It is a clearing amid the clouds that offers beauty and tenderness and rooms with fading lights and cacophonous sounds. I’m reminded of the soft spot on a baby’s head before the cranial bone plates form. The girl seems like a baby who is still forming, who needs the friend to nurture and take care of her:

she rose and stumbled back in pieces
and into my arms;
and because nothing I could do
could repair her soul
though I flew at it with cloth
with glue with bandages kisses anything
and still there was a rift
between her and her body and therefore
between us

The rape creates a rift not only in the body and mind of the friend but between the two girls. The speaker shares in the friend’s trauma as she once shared in her love. The rape consumes them both.

In the end, the speaker says passion is like sunlight, not something blessed or cursed by God, but under the earth or on top of it warming us or leaving us behind, creating patterns on the walls. If we survive what happens to us in life, it is our responsibility. We patch our wounds together like the sky that wraps itself in clouds.

Fogging the Bees

God, somehow I’ve made them drink
the gold from their bodies.
They drive as fast as they can
through the hot kitchen air–
they plunge into dishwater, cat’s milk.
Those that have the strength
disappear into the hive,
come out staggering like gyroscopes,
Is loyalty like that?
I switch on the bulb.
The kitchen is a microscope:
between screen and glass, a smear of them,
a Rorschach, half
alive like my sister who claimed
she could decode that kind of truth
when she came home from the Buddhists,
dusted with peace.
In her head there was a clearing.
Names came to graze there, names
of perfect animals she chanted
till her head was a hive strung with words
for every kind of honey.
Now, the attic is a carpet of bees.
By spring they will be dust, the house
will inhale them, next winter gold heat
will rise through the blowers into the room
where my sister lies, larval.
I hope it is the right gold.
I hope that the “l” lodged in the word for it
will fall out when it stings her
and leave a god in the room to talk her
into her next incarnation: a life
both loyal and sisterly, like bees.

This is a poem that questions what loyalty is. Loyalty has been the theme in all three poems. We have loyalty to the father in the first poem, loyalty to the friend in the second, and loyalty to the sister in the third.

BeeHiveShe opens this poem with the color gold. It appears in the poem three times. The Tibetan Buddhists believe in five sacred stones: the crystal for light, turquoise for infinity of sea and sky, coral for life and form, gold for the golden ray of the sun, silver for the light of the moon. Gold is linked with divinity and those gods associated with the sun. It symbolizes wealth and success.

I don’t pretend to understand what the narrative is here. I feel I should. I have walked around puzzling over it for weeks. I can only offer some interpretation of what I think may be happening in the poem. I feel like part of my failure to understand the narrative is that I understand so little about bees. I’ve written stories at the newspaper where I work on local beekeepers, but still I know very little about beekeeping.

But I don’t think this narrative has anything to do with beekeeping but bees that have gotten into the house and must be “fogged” or exterminated by pesticides. That is why there is a carpet of bees in the attic by spring. Still, the image brings to mind the “fogging” beekeepers use to tame bees.

The “fogging” in the kitchen seems to be happening between two places, the life in the hive and the life of the two sisters. The event serves as a gate between those two worlds. In all three poems we are in between two worlds. We are in and out of the water in Angels. We are in between earth and heaven in Dear Sky and we are inside and outside of a beehive in Fogging the Bees. We go back and forth between two places, the world of the imagination and the world of reality. Reality always enters in. Fish die, people get hurt and bees must be killed with pesticides. In these transitory places, we are watching to see what will happen next. We live in two places at once.

When she says, Is loyalty like that, I at first think she means, the bees are loyal (tamed) only because they have been fogged. That’s not loyalty, however, because loyalty is something that can only be offered by choice.

The bees fly back into the hive and come out one-winged perhaps because they’ve been “fogged” and have found no loyalty in the hive. Their ability to fly has been compromised, and they are spinning like gyroscopes, looking like half of a Rorschach inkblot test. This act of killing bees is linked to a sister who is “half alive” and lying in her room in a larval state.

bee-hive-coloring-pages-1From the little I know about beekeeping, bees reflect something of the personality of their keeper. The hives mirror some aspect of the person who cares for them. What strikes me in this poem is the reflection the two sisters have of each other. One seems practical. She is fogging the bees. The other is “dusted with peace” by the Buddhists and perhaps shares the Buddhist sentiment of respect for all living beings.

I think of the two sisters in Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility. Elinor lives her life practically and ignores her feelings in regard for common sense, and Marianne lives a life based around her emotions and feelings. When I see the sister lying in bed in this poem, I think of the scene in Austen’s novel where Marianne is dying and Elinor begs her to stay alive because she doesn’t know how to face life without her.

I never had a sister, and perhaps because of this I imagine sisters to be like this, seeing in each other the strengths or weaknesses they lack. It is a golden moment in the lives of the two sisters in this poem when they are young and share conversations and experiences they may not have together when they are grown.


Pied piper (watercolor)

This poem, like the first two, is a poem based around halves: half of us can fly and half of us is spinning out of control, half of us is dead and half of us is alive, half of us is quiet and half of us speaks, half of us we leave behind in the corpses of angels and half of us we take with us, half of us is learning and half of us is teaching, half of us is consumed by life and half of us survives, half of us is lost in the clouds and half of us remains on the ground. From one side to the other, we weave our way back and forth in Robin’s poems in order to see both halves of ourselves.

When Robin was in Vermont, she played her flute. As I watched her, I thought of both the pied piper and of the Kokopelli, the dancing flute players the Hopi use to symbolize music and mischief and fertility. They carry the seeds of creativity on their humped backs.



As Robin migrates back and forth between her two worlds as poet and teacher, she inspires too. In her matter of fact way, she helped me open up my poems to a longer line length so that my own voice could come through more authentically. And this stuff called art, whether we are writing poetry or playing Bach or Bluegrass, is about having fun and trying new things, collaborating with something beyond us and between each other so that we carry those creative seeds to the world. She teaches us how to drink the gold from our bodies.

Today, I’ve been reading poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay and found this obituary in the New York Times:

OBITUARY Oct. 20, 1950
Edna St. V. Millay Found Dead At 58

AUSTERLITZ, N.Y., Oct. 19–Edna St. Vincent Millay, the famous poet, was found dead at the foot of the stairs in her isolated home near here at 3:30 P. M. today.

Her physician said she died of a heart attack after a coronary occlusion. She was 58 years old.

She was dressed in a nightgown and slippers when her body was found by James Pinnie, a caretaker, who had arrived to fix a fire for the evening. The Columbia County coroner estimated that she had been dead for eight hours. Her nearest neighbor lived a mile away.

Miss Millay had lived alone in the Berkshire hills near the Massachusetts border, ten miles southwest of Chatham, N. Y., since her husband died on Aug. 20, 1949. He was Eugen Jan Boissevain, a retired New York importer.

Spokesman for Three Decades

Edna St. Vincent Millay was a terse and moving spokesman during the Twenties, the Thirties and the Forties. She was an idol of the younger generation during the glorious early days of Greenwich Village when she wrote, what critics termed a frivolous but widely know poem which ended:

My candle burns at both ends, It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends, It gives a lovely light!

All critics agreed, however, that Greenwich Village and Vassar, plus a gypsy childhood on the rocky coast of Maine, produced one of the greatest American poets of her time. In 1940 she published in THE NEW YORK TIMES Magazine a plea against isolationism which said, “There are no islands any more,” and during the second World War she wrote of the Nazi massacre of the Czechoslovak city of Lidice:

The whole world holds in its arms today The murdered village of Lidice, Like the murdered body of a little child, Innocent, happy, surprised at play.

Before this, when Miss Millay won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1922, her work had become more profound and less personal as she grew out of the “flaming youth” era in the Village. The nation and the world had become her concern.

Was Raised in Maine

Miss Millay was born in Rockland, Me., on Feb. 22, 1892, in an old house “between the mountains and the sea” where baskets of apples and drying herbs on the porch mingled their scents with those of the neighboring pine woods.

She was the eldest of three sisters, brought up by their mother, the former Cora Buzelle. Of the younger sisters, Norma became an actress and Kathleen a writer, whose first novel, published in 1927, was succeeded by fairy stories, short stories, plays and verse.

Floyd Dell, novelist and unofficial historian of the Village in the early Twenties, has written how the mother worked to bring up her daughters in “gay and courageous poverty.”

Edna, the tomboy of the family, was usually called “Vincent” by her mother and sisters. Her talent was recognized and encouraged and poetry was read and reread in the household. At 14 she won the St. Nicholas Gold Badge for poetry, the first of many honors. In the poem that gave its name to her volume, “The Harp-Weaver,” some have discovered the inspiration of her poor youth and her mother’s devotion.

Edna entered Vassar late. She was then 21 years old, but when she was 18 she had finished the first part of her first long poem, “Renascence,” and at 20 had ended it. It was published in a prize contest, which incidentally, it did not win. Sonnets and lyrics followed while she still was in college. She was graduated in 1917 and came to live in the Village, remaining for years, something of a tradition in her college.

Miss Millay, says Floyd Dell, was in those days “a frivolous young woman, with a brand-new pair of dancing slippers and a mouth like a valentine,” young, red-haired and unquestionably pretty. But the Village was the wartime Village, and Miss Millay took the radical stand.

John Reed, Communist and war correspondent, was among her friends. Inez Milholland, feminist leader, to whom the sonnet “The Pioneer” is a tribute, was one of her admirers. In a play, “Aria da Capo,” written in 1921, she expressed her hatred of war, and it has been recorded that she haunted court rooms with her pacifist friends, reciting to them her poetry to comfort them while juries decided on their cases.

With Provincetown Players

At first poetry in Greenwich Village did not pay, and Miss Millay turned to the theatre, briefly. She acted without pay with the Provincetown Players in their converted stable on Macdougal Street and got a part in a Theatre Guild production. For some time she did hack writing for magazines under a pseudonym.

It was her second volume of verses, “A Few Figs From Thistles,” that turned national attention to the nine-foot-wide house on Bedford Street where she lived. There followed “Second April” in 1921 and “The Lamp and the Bell” and a morality play, “Two Slatterns and a King,” in the same year, and in 1922, with the Pulitzer Prize, her position as a poet was established.

“The Harp-Weaver” was published in 1923, and then the Metropolitan Opera House commissioned Miss Millay to write a book for the score of an opera composed by Deems Taylor. For her plot she went to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of Eadgar, King of Wessex, a story not unlike that of Tristan and Isolde, and the result was “The King’s Henchman,” called by one writer the most effectively and artistically wrought American opera ever to reach the stage.

It was produced at the Metropolitan Opera as the most important production of the 1927 season, with Lawrence Tibbett, Edward Johnson and Florence Easton, and later was taken on an extensive tour. Within twenty days of the publication of the poem in book form four editions were exhausted, and it was calculated that Miss Millay’s royalties from her publishers ran to $100 a day.

In the summer of 1927 the time drew near for the execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Boston Italians whose trial and conviction of murder became one of the most celebrated labor causes of the United States. Only recently recovered from a nervous breakdown, Miss Millay flung herself into the fight for their lives.

Contributed Poem to Fund

A poem which had wide circulation at the time, “Justice Denied in Massachusetts,” was her contribution to the fund raised for the defense campaign. Miss Millay also made a personal appeal to Governor Fuller.

In August she was arrested as one of the “death watch” demonstrators before the Boston State House. With her were John Howard Lawson, the playwright; William Patterson of the American Negro Congress, Ella Reeve, “Mother” Bloor and others.

“I went to Boston fully expecting to be arrested–arrested by a polizia created by a government that my ancestors rebelled to establish,” she said, when back in New York. “Some of us have been thinking and talking too long without doing anything. Poems are perfect; picketing, sometimes, is better.”

Miss Millay was married to Mr. Boissevain in 1923. They spent most of their married life at Steepletop, their Columbia County home. They traveled to Florida, the Riviera and Spain and, in 1933, bought an eighty-five acre island in Casco Bay, Me.

The Lay for the Troubled Golfer

His eye was wild and his face was taut with anger and hate and rage,
And the things he muttered were much too strong for the ink of the printed page.
I found him there when the dusk came down, in his golf clothes still was he,
And his clubs were strewn around his feet as he told his grief to me:
“I’d an easy five for a seventy-nine—in sight of the golden goal—
An easy five and I took an eight—an eight on the eighteenth hole!

“I’ve dreamed my dreams of the ‘seventy men,’ and I’ve worked year after year,
I have vowed I would stand with the chosen few ere the end of my golf career;
I’ve cherished the thought of a seventy score, and the days have come and gone
And I’ve never been close to the golden goal my heart was set upon.
But today I stood on the eighteenth tee and counted that score of mine,
And my pulses raced with the thrill of joy—I’d a five for seventy-nine!

“I can kick the ball from the eighteenth tee and get this hole in five,
Bit I took the wood and I tried to cross that ditch with a mighty drive—”
Let us end the quotes, it is best for all to imagine his language rich,
But he topped that ball, as we often do, and the pill stopped in the ditch.
His third was short and his fourth was bad and his fifth was off the line,
And he took an eight on the eighteenth hole with a five for a seventy-nine.

I gathered his clubs and I took his arm and alone in the locker room
I left him sitting upon the bench, a picture of grief and gloom;
And the last man came and took his shower and hurried upon his way,
But still he sat with his head bowed down like one with a mind astray,
And he counted his score card o’er and o’er and muttered this doleful whine:
“I took an eight on the eighteenth hole, with a five for a seventy-nine!”
by Edgar Albert Guest (1881-1959)

Some Grass along a Ditch Bank

I don’t know what happens to grass.
But it doesn’t die, exactly.
It turns white, in winter, but stays there,
A few yards from the ditch,
Then comes back in March,
Turning a green that has nothing
To do with us.
Mostly, it’s just yellow, or tan.
It blends in,
Swayed by the wind, maybe, but not by any emotion,
Or partisan stripe.
You can misread it, at times:
I have seen it almost appear
To fight long & well
For its right to be, & be grass, when
I tried pulling it out.
I thought I could almost sense it digging in,
Not with reproach, exactly,
But with a kind of rare tact that I miss,
Sometimes, in others.
And besides, if you really wanted it out,
You’d have to disc it under,
Standing on a shuddering Case tractor,
And staring into the distance like
Somebody with a vision
In the wrong place for visions.
With time, you’d feel silly.
And, always, it comes back:
At the end of some winter when
The sky has neither sun, nor snow,
Nor anything personal,
You’d be wary of any impulse
That seemed mostly cosmetic.
It’s all a matter of taste,
And how taste changes.
Besides, in March, the fields are wet;
The trucks & machinery won’t start,
And the blades of the disc won’t turn,
Usually, because of the rust.
That’s when you notice the grass coming back,
In some other spot, & with a different look
This time, as if it had an idea
For a peninsula, maybe, or its shape
Reclining on a map you almost
Begin to remember.
In March, my father spent hours
Just piecing together some puzzle
That might start up a tractor,
Or set the tines of a cultivator
Or spring tooth right,
And do it without paying money.
Those rows of gray earth that looked “combed,”
Between each row of vines,
And run off to the horizon
As you drive past?
You could almost say
It was almost pretty.
But this place isn’t France.
For years, they’ve made only raisins,
And a cheap, sweet wine.
And someone had to work late,
As bored as you are, probably,
But with the added headache of
Owning some piece of land
That never gave up much
Without a mute argument.
The lucky sold out to subdividers,
But this is for one who stayed,
And how, after a few years,
He even felt sympathy for grass—
Then felt that turn into a resentment
Which grew, finally, into
A variety of puzzled envy:
Turning a little grass under
With each acre,
And turning it under for miles,
While half his life, spent
On top of a tractor,
Went by, unnoticed, without feast days
Or celebrations—opening his mailbox
At the roadside which was incapable
Of looking any different—
More picturesque, or less common—
The rank but still blossoming weeds
Stirring a little, maybe,
As you drove past,
But then growing still again.
Larry Levis (born 1946)