It is time – you both have gone and left us
plenty to do and think about as we sit down
to Christmas for the last time in your house.
It looks just like you left it, yet not the same –
the world has changed and we have aged.
There is neither time nor money enough
to set the orchard right, not energy enough
to find new homes for what it’s raised, glowing
gold tonight in rows on trees, rinds puffed
and weakening. Remember when the crop
was picked and in the shed by Thanksgiving?
Your all-electric Medallion home with lots
of single panes, a dinosaur today with wheels
spinning, sitting empty without you, without
purpose for your dreams but to house memories.
Transplanted, it is time to let our old roots
go – turn away as new hands shape or desecrate
the honest living you built yourselves.
A box, a drawer – bundled letters stored
deep inside walls, now forgotten fade with
ledgers stacked in a leaky shed, stained
by dust and water. Whose time have we
stolen as this century accelerates, squeezes
into a decade? What next, a year or week?
Like pickup dogs, tears streak our cheeks –
we cannot look back like Lot’s unnamed wife
for fear of falling out, missing the next turn,
next bomb. Not quite Palmer, his hand
flowed legibly forward, innocently across
unlined sheet after sheet like furrows full
and level across vineyards at home, dutiful
son, stateside before the Bulge, before we
knew him, before his scraps of hieroglyphics
he could not improve. How hard the words
came: deep cut letters slurred together
we could not read and he could not say easily.
A gray sea laps the foothills, fills the Valley, creates
islands of mountain tops above the muffled sounds
of humanity, we can’t see, moving along the road
below. The rumbling crush of rock, farther off,
where creek greets river, where diesel engines
load and groan to the highway running deeper
towards the flatlands into fog. Warm above the shoreline,
we squint into the sun as naked oaks washed in drifting
mists become submerged, reach-out crying for a hand
before the last limb is engulfed – and we become
Jeffers’ horsemen above the Coast Road, hooves wet
with green, listening to the busyness of progress
bubbling-up. I watched the silhouette of a man
swing a sledgehammer in the fog when I was young,
at the peak of his arc before the sound of his last blow
reached me – and so it is off these narrow ropes
of blacktop. We are that horseman’s children still
riding higher, climbing towards the clear and timeless,
where the voices before us can whisper in sleep,
where trees and rocks dance with hawks, and we
sing poetry around a fire above the edge of steep.
A separate breed, these horses standing,
saddled and dressed in glinting tapestries
for centuries, bred for the parade of kings
who rule the world collectively, who feed
humanity, efficiently like cattle in pens –
who make war scientifically as lasting
diversions for young battle cries
amid the smoke and thunder.
And we admire them – this horseflesh.
Imagine the feel of such power
and grace to glance upon ground
you know intimately. No forty acres
to farm with an army mule, but space
between silhouettes of ranges, the far
purple horizons that draw all envy
from souls a horseback, grinning dawn
and dusk at an ever-changing sky.
A special breed not everyone can ride.
Like steel-jawed traps slightly buried
and camouflaged with leaves and grass –
like land mines half-way ‘round the world,
we step around them, waiting
for the old horse or dog on the edge
of suffering, or the crippled cow,
before pulling the necessary trigger.
We cannot pretend we do not see
gophers in the garden, the endless trail
of ants, the rats’ nest – we deal death
as we wait for our own, always hoping
our compassion might outweigh the facts.
Killing is not for old men who have lost
their focus, who cannot pull the blinders up
to eclipse themselves. A man can endure
only so many squeezes, so many crosshairs
before he begins to step around insects
and spiders, avoiding the snakes in the road.