Photo by Sandy Sarsfield on Adobe Stock
A lump hammer propels me close
to buried root, each head-heavy swing
a blow at resistance. I want to lash
the stubborn vines to scaffolding
so they’ll grow upright, as we want
for our children—as I raised you, my child,
trying to bind your away-ward bent,
your queerness; ties to you failed,
each of us blurred by tears when you fled
On the ground, awry,
fruit may rot, a recipe to subvert
summer’s caprese. The stakes are high,
and I try pounding them further in.
It’s not as if they need to hold up
the gravity of family rifts.
More like temporary props,
although mine seem to linger: the strut
I adopted when a new dad to hide
an unease, the latticework of norms
we erect about our kids
and never think to dismantle. Last summer
I mistook what I let go—Romas
freed, you my child not, an outbreak
of blight, black spot, diseased strata
in both encounters, one of them trussed
with my ideas of personhood,
gender, appearance. In place of trust
I knocked your clothes, how you walked, stood,
listening in the way the vain hear...
Gardening offers redemptive buds,
a place to set a guidepost straight,
hopes in line with that rectitude,
one more heft and strike quivering.
But vines twist back from where I want
to tie them, as if to live their own lives.
Perhaps the hornworms will relent
and not creep through these San Marzanos
and my torment. If I call my child,
will they pick up? How to replant
when supports fail, so little holds?
Sunrise: the chill incites
a rasp of cloudy breath
against a rising slope of the hills,
a cleansing sharpness, striking
as light haloing a fallen tree
beside the trail. A panorama
awaits, a portent; while here,
broken stones surround me
like aged exiles in the wilderness
with little hope from on high...
Quiet, as though the mountain had removed
its hat for a passing. Disquiet
as dust roused by my clogs disperses
to a still life of the paltry
odds and ends I leave behind.
I should have done more in ink—or stone,
though texts, if not transmitted by priests,
will decompose like daylilies...
It’s warming up. My shadow shrinks
to almost nothing. Perhaps I’ll leave
my coat on a limb of this tamarisk,
something of use for the seekers
who follow, in case they also journey
from hope to toil to a cold outlook.
The climb a test, sweat nearly blurring
my vision, my head floating—
about to faint, or to have a burden lifted?
The wind-scarred course steepens
toward the nearing Pisgah sight,
stuttering my steps, hesitant to confront
a burst of sheer light, vision
of a land promising—not promised
for even stone writings shatter.
Or should I be content with the promise
in grandkids round a table,
murky as if seen through hoar-frost?
It’s one view I’ve had time
to ponder, a fraught prospect,
hopes pinned between oblivion
and continuity... Push on,
past stunted irises straining
through scree and rock
to bask blue in a desiccating sun,
past water oozing from unstruck flint,
glistening its clarity on the arid slope
till night overtakes. Push on,
a final vista quickens, resplendent
mirage—if only I could believe it.
Secure the damn thing in its disc, mute it gold,
or seal it amber in an hourglass…
But it’s found an escapement on my wrist,
it’s funneling through a trapdoor of sand.
I’m tempted to ask for a few more years,
draconic years, dog years, though perhaps
I’d regard them as a miser observes
a dwindling bank account, dreading
each payment, dreaming of a quoin
that wedges shut a coffer door.
An experiment: two facing mirrors,
my image receding in both, ad infinitum.
What time is it for the last me beyond
the looking glass? When I beam a flashlight
at one, it races away in the other
at light speed, taking me with it—
I can’t say why, but hasn’t this journey
of the mirrored me (relative to you) swindled time?
Heron wings. Their beat-beat casts
a shock wave, the vibration
a quivering—think of a fish speared by a beak
dangling in nothingness, the tide flats receding.
I suppose one day a raven will show up, fold
my shroud into a cloth sling, and bear me away.
Cesium gas in a vacuum, mocking my heartbeat…
Or an abrading desert wind,
a melting glacier floe, tides and waves
to wash the young, bleach the dead,
coursing over a berm I’ve built,
sucking it back, surge by surge, to a fount…
It varies like a sine wave, a parabolic motion,
a shuttle’s threading of the weft
tightening then loosening as I move
from excitement to torpor—always enveloping,
its silky hand imperceptible when I’m busy;
but noticing its drape I shiver.
Our dog’s clock is complete mindfulness.
His stomach chimes hunger. A fading scent
of his master advances the hour hand of longing
as the afternoon wears on, until
the front door clicks—such innocence, at one
with it all, tail wagging, tail down.
What’s become of the inner voice
that once asked us to mark the sun’s drift
from the horizon, the rising of Orion’s belt?
I think it hid in my grandfather’s clock,
riding the pendulum, rocking in the mahogany throat—
as somewhere in that cadence I felt a pause.
The digital face on my wrist an icon,
its chapter and verse luminous on my mobile screen,
observed when I lie down and when I rise up.
No Buddhist wheel, more a conveyor
in a reprocessing yard—yet when its pulse is in sync
with mine, I almost comprehend transcendence.