Christmas in April,
Wild Cucumber on a dead
We are farming just beyond
your city’s limits to sustain growth
by building houses, irrigating fields
to feed you. We are drilling deeper
wells all around your sufficient
neighborhood mapped on asphalt.
Either side of the fuzzy border,
we get old, get tired of adapting
to mistakes—unlike bugs, we live
too long to develop genetics
our children’s children will need
in an unimaginable future.
History will say our families farmed
the San Joaquin for 200 years
before running out of water
fifty years from now—our thin dust
upon dry layers of earth stacked above
a depleting Pleistocene sea.
A fluttering of other lives
busy nesting out of reach—
dry thatches stashed on beams
under eaves like apartments
with squabbling, feathers floating,
on and on—as we lumber
beneath them, intertwined.
Crows claim the tops
of power poles on 65
through rolling hills of oats,
stacks of sticks close to roadkill—
adapting quickly to our urgencies,
to these forgotten outposts
of railroad towns
growing closer together.
Innocent enough: the service pole
holding two hundred and twenty volts
above the ground to the house,
end of the line for electric power
and all its surges, to be replaced
by men and three huge trucks
with hydraulic arms and augers.
That’s how comedies begin
in backyard pastures too dry to irrigate,
visits by servicemen scouting work orders,
asking if the dog bites: “Sometimes.”
The faucet crushed beneath a tire
while we were gone to Bakersfield
trading goosenecks before we wean—
the white geyser and phone call
asking where to turn the water off:
“The pump.” On, after an easy faucet fix
at dusk, but no water to the house,
you found the gate valve stripped,
one last twist that did not quell
the fountain wasting in a drought
with the gopher snake they killed.
Innocence, fear, the tracks were clear.
We cut and plumbed another gate valve,
used once and saved like farmers do,
you and I and the mosquitoes
on our bellies in the mud with wrenches
after the inch-and-a-half Dayton blew
three times under pressure. Face-to-face,
a wrench apiece, the coupler between us
the fourth time tightened to hold
forever in my mind, our wet and muddy
partnership, laughing: “Welcome home.”
You others, we the very old have a country.
A passport costs everything there is.
– William Stafford (“Waiting in Line”)
Circles mapped to save steps on sure ground,
well-worn routine from barn to mangers,
feed and irrigate with the right tools
to mend our presence along the way—few
loose pages nowadays, at the ready—gathers
to brand and wean replayed, filed by pasture.
I remember the old dogs refreshing scent posts
in the last of the light before they slept
into forever, and all the old horses in the dark
nosing buckets trying to bring the sun—
and my father’s careful words, after awhile,
you have to get used to not being first in line.
When the wind blows up canyon,
first light gray,
I am the old red horse,
twenty-five, bucking in place.
We never loose it, that wanting
stirred and satisfied—
to be wild again
when everything is right.
We feel his feeble effort,
hooves barely off the ground,
our whoops and cheers
howling on a damp wind.
Hole in the orchard filled
with leaky water troughs
of asparagus rockets
breaking free. We felled
the cherry tree the borers killed,
corded-up for winter fires.
We shared the crop,
top branches first
we couldn’t reach until
word got out and left us
pits. Damn Orioles
and their bucket mouths.
Since the bird feeders, the House Sparrows
have run the finches off the beam,
scattered their nest, spending mornings
rebuilding for a week. The male helps,
but would rather fluff his feathers
in the warm first light and supervise.
He packs little twigs and she dry weeds,
long streamers trailing her fluttering
balancing act, treading air before ascending.
Saying nothing, we see ourselves
in these silhouettes, satisfied
and pleased to entertain the gods.