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Friday, August 07, 2020

I've Become Apple Mary

As usual, the early August post is much the same as the mid-July post only everything is bigger. We'll spare you the giant zucchini photos and will just mention that, sliced small, they have sustained Beloved's chickens and ducks during the season of basically no grass.

Here's the obligatory rooftop view. Near the top, assorted apple varieties. Low production year. At right, the Gravenstein. It has made a lot of fruit this year, but ... well, more about that below. Lower right, grapes -- low production year. At bottom, sunflowers, vigorous growth, no heads yet. Left, tomatoes and onions, lots of foliage mostly. Center, kale, collards, beets, beans, lettuce (in August!), carrots, all doing well. Towards the back, sunchokes are looking productive, potatoes are all right but will only make about five tubers per plant, more green tomatoes, winter squash and pumpkins. The bulk of the winter squash will be spaghetti squash, not our favorite but they are the ones that sprouted best, so we planted out the entire flat.

Here is a closer look at the tomato/onion bed. The pots on the tomato supports are for keeping the supports from punching holes in Remay cloths which we have to spread over this bed when the temperatures exceed 90F. It's the most heat sensitive bed.
Lettuce is thriving in the shade of the beans.
A closer view of the sunchokes. I haven't looked in the ground yet to see how their roots, Jerusalem artichokes, are doing, but they're probably all right. Some of the stems are ten feet tall.
Potatoes are beginning to look a little peaked but are not yet ready to pull. Behind them, the vining squash have overrun everything in sight.
A look back toward the house. You can tell it was owner-built and not well maintained over the years. We are the third owners. We tried, but oh well. At least it was something we could afford and it has served us well.

Now about that Gravenstein. Some years it makes a full crop, and raises our expectations, only to drop all the apples just before ripening. This is one of those years. They fall, bruise, wait about 24 hours to ripen, then become hopeless in another 24 hours. We've learned to anticipate this and make all our applesauce and apple butter from this one tree. I roam about beneath it, apples bouncing off my head and shoulders, carrying a basket and a sharp Japanese sickle affixed to a longish hazel stick. With the sickle I impale acceptable-looking apples, then lift and rap the sickle against the basket handle, so that the apple transfers itself to the basket. All in lieu of bending over, y'see. Then it's off to the potting shed to peel, core and slice, then process into apple butter in the big crock pot.

 


Oops, an end slice has a peeling -- I'll fish it out and add it to the leavings, which will go to the chicken yard and vanish quickly.

My supply of Mason jar lids is a bit short this year, and we can't find any at the suppliers. So to conserve them we're saucing into quart jars instead of the usual half pints. We're going to be looking at some serious applesauce recipes this winter, I think.

:::

I've been to the dentist for some emergency care -- now, instead of later, in case the pandemic gets worse. They wore the best PPE they could get, which wasn't much, so I'm isolated from the family for a week. After apple buttering, gardening, and cutting up wood, I retire from the heat of the day into the hut, where I'm living at the moment.

Here, in a space eight feet by ten,  I have plenty to eat and drink, Internet access, and a few good books. A dear friend has sent me a copy of The First Free Women: Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns. It's a new translation, in partial paraphrasis, of the Therigatha, or Gathas of the Elder Nuns, done into English by Matty Weingast. These gathas were written in the time of Buddha, twenty-six hundred years ago. I've just read:

One
moment 
gives birth
to the
next.

What we do is who we become.

What we do is who we become ...

Well.

I guess I've become Apple Mary.



Thursday, July 16, 2020

Bodhisattva activity

So here we have the mid-July report. As our northern hemisphere summer gathers pace, the expanded garden has been taking advantage of 70F-80F days to put on foliage. More foliage than fruiting, admittedly, but there will be some things.

Here we have the squash patch. As we're not trying to save squash seed this year, it's a hodgepodge -- push aside the leaves and you may see assorted zucchinis, straight necks, butternuts, spaghettis, Sweet Meat, delicata, or pie pumpkins forming. To save seed, we'd need to choose maybe Romanesco zukes (summer) and butternuts (winter) and put them in two different gardens -- the ones we have are over 100 feet apart, to prevent crossing. Crossed squash are welcomed -- they can be cooked up for poultry all winter -- but not preferred.

We're told to chop and drop the leaves to help the bees find the flowers, and we've done some of that, but also noticed the flowers are reaching up through the canopy and definitely finding the bees. I'm impressed. 


Sunchokes in the near distance were planted this year as a wind barrier -- we find wind is blowing more of the time and desiccating plants more as compared to a decade ago. That corn in the foreground may not come to much. Well, we suspected it was not going to be a great corn year, so there's only a small packet of a sweet hybrid planted there.

Here is the main spud bed, about sixteen by thirty feet. They're putting more effort into flowering than usual, and appear to be much appreciated by the pollinators. No idea what's going on below, though. We weren't able to loosen the soil very deep during lockdown -- just snaffled over it with a cultivator. Deep mulch would be the ticket but there wasn't a lot of that on hand either. Fingers are crossed.


I mentioned we have a number of willow trees that were once bean poles. Here's one in progress in one of the bean trellises.


Lettuce and carrots taking advantage of the bean shade. It's 88F today and there is a bona fide heat wave coming in.


We had a few extra beans and cukes so made a string trellis against the garage with some tee posts.


Romanesco is much featured in current menus.


The collard patch grows apace.


We have two kinds of comfrey, the Bocking 4 or 14 seen here and, at lower right in the shade, the ancestral kind that can spread from seed, not as big. Both are medicinal topically and make great mulch or compost tea. We find the old comfrey puts up with drought better than the Bocking and we don't at all mind it taking over as you can raise poultry on it -- they don't seem prone to the alkaloid problems we've been warned about.

Here, it's disposed along the "moat" fence. Ducks can crane their necks through the mesh and self- serve without wiping out the plants.


:::

The sangha's current assigned reading includes Living by Vow by Shohaku Okamura. It's an exegesis of some of the chants used in Western zendos. He addresses the concerns of those, especially newcomers, grappling with what seems to be an inordinate amount of ritual in Zen ("I thought this was going to be liberating").

His choice of a key word is "vow," which he explains is not a complete translation of the Chinese and Japanese word(s), which connote something more like "resolve." "I resolve to ...." One does not fail if one does not achieve 100% of what has been undertaken, or perhaps even if one does not achieve any of it. Scale and certainty are perhaps less important in Mahayana Buddhism than sincerity and a willingness to try things.

The activities that are recommended to try are simple enough: "do not do bad things; do good things; serve all beings." What's emphasized there is not personal "salvation" but service to the community. Ultimately the community is everyone ("all beings"); but a sangha comes together to practice service. Student barbers practice on one another for a reason. 

To light the candles on the altar in a prescribed manner brings some order out of chaos and provides an opportunity for a kind of gracious mindfulness, but also for offering the gift of light. As we learn to work within the rules of our practice, we free ourselves up to concentrate on the contentless content of our practice -- the place where freedom begins to emerge without an overdose of self-regard.

Ritual is everywhere, I think. Aside from being a Zen nun I'm also a member of the Society of Friends, North Pacific Yearly Meeting affiliated. This flavor of Quakerism has no liturgy, no creed, and no professional clergy. Yet when one comes to Meeting for Worship, one knows what to expect -- greet the greeter, walk slowly in, settle down in the silence, wait in silence for an hour together, listen to any testimony that arises. The clerk or an appointed closer says "good morning, Friends" and shakes hands with those nearby, the handshake spreads round the room, and there are announcements. All this is nothing if not ritualistic, yet it clearly expedites the central concern -- the sitting together in worshipful silence, from which springs the Meeting's service to the wider community.

At the moment, this is taking place virtually, in online Meetings, but you get the drift.

Most cyclical religious (and humanistic!) activity, I think, has this function: to season service with wisdom before offering to the world. It is a dance, and we may call it sacred.

Gardening, to me, is such a sacred dance. 

My writing about the garden is an effort to produce dance notation. It chronicles seasons and strategies, up and downs -- a life, mine, but also a microcosm of the life of society. I'm active in a cyclical way, performing annual tasks: seeding flats, building up beds, spreading compost, setting out plants, irrigating, harvesting, putting the beds to bed. The aim is to find the wisest ways to do food hyperlocally, and impart what has been found. Sharing the ritual of constructing a bean trellis from willow growth, it is hoped, serves as an instance of bodhisattva activity.


Every act of kindness, no matter how small, provides space for good things to happen. -- Sensei Alex Kakuyo

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Someone might need it

Much of my winding-down life these days is spent in Zoom meetings of Zen sanghas or fighting COVID misinformation and fascist propaganda online (not on Facebook -- I'll leave that to my friends there). I know it might not be the best use of my time but as a relatively impecunious seventy-one-year-old who needs to stay home, these are things I can do, such as they are.

Much of the rest of it is devoted to raising, to the extent of my ability, more food than I personally eat, because the little I know about that is most of what I still know how to do, in a world that has, mercifully, left me behind. Let's see how that's going.

Up at the hut, in March, I planted two small beds of store-bought organic red potatoes. The vines on one have died back, so I've pulled back the mulch to see how they did.


Not too bad. I've given away half and put the rest in storage. I don't think they are the best keepers, though, so if some of my other spuds turn out, we might keep those and eat or distribute these.

One of our strategies this year is to utilize the "flower" beds along the east and north side of the house for greens. 


For this I seeded flats from the "old seeds" jar; usually that gives me mostly Red Russian kale and a smattering of lettuces and such, but this year, for some reason, most of what sprouted turned out to be collards.


That's actually a bonus; we're not that into collards and neither are those we give food to, but they hold up exceptionally through the winter (and are tasty after frost), so they represent food security and close to the house at that. There's also some Fordhook Giant chard, which is good through the summer and a personal favorite. It goes well with the Romanesco zucchini, which has just begun producing.

Most of the kale is in three of the beds in the "kitchen garden."


Summer things are very slow this year. Beans have been non-starters, along with corn -- soil is still 62F well into July. But we persevere.

The "field" garden, or the two-thirds we had given up on due to persistent bindweed, is back in service. Every few days I have pulled back the black plastic one row at a time, replacing it incrementally with kraft paper, and planted sunchokes, five kinds of potatoes, winter squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, and sweet corn.


The bindweed doesn't seem to have figured out the kraft paper, but it does run to the light, which is wherever I've put in a transplant, so I go around pulling up the climbing vines as they appear on the growing squash or spuds. So far, so good.

Germination of the "certified seed" potatoes that I bought for extortionate prices has been so-so to downright spotty. The worst performers seem to be the Pontiac Reds, which were developed in Florida and probably prefer warm sand to our stony, frighteningly cold clay. But in March and April there was a nationwide run on seed potatoes, and by the time I got serious about expanding the garden, the Pontiacs were all that suppliers could still offer -- which suggests they are not all that popular.

The broad beans I planted at Daughter's place did quite well. I've dried down a two gallon bucket full; these are for seed. I'm also (trying to) save kale, beet, and chard seeds. It's difficult; there's too much humidity still.

It does look like it will be a good blackberry year. We'll be needing that. Cherries did so-so but were welcome; pie cherries did well and will be a help come winter. Some figs are coming in.

Pears, plums, peaches, quince, nectarines, apricots and most of the apples are sleeping off their record year of 2019. The Gravenstein, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Cortland and Egremont Russets will maybe produce about a fifth of what they did then, but that's enough to keep me busy.

Gravenstein ripens first and is our favorite for apple butter

I have learned, after some experimentation, that green apple drops can be gathered, sliced and cooked and they are quite edible. They help bridge the gap between cherry time and true apple season.

The creek has finally dried up (or down, falling with the water table), giving me access to some wood I'd like to cut up.

But I'm tired. It might not happen today. Another cup of mint tea sounds good right about now.

:::

I know I've bitten off more than I can chew. Don't we all, all the time?

But an ambition to do well is, I submit, not a bad thing.

In Mahayana Buddhism, it's the only thing: in the Bodhisattva vows we make promises to do the impossible on behalf of the innumerable, so to speak -- not that we're expected to deliver it all, at least any time soon. The point is to make sure, as circumstances permit and to our varied ability, that the steps we take are in the general direction of right doing.

In my readings (Barbara O'Brien, Circle of the Way, p. 281) I have come across a gatha by her teacher Jion Susan Postal that ends:
With infinite kindness to the past, infinite service to the present, infinite responsibility to the future.
Kindness to the past: toward what I have not done well, toward what we have not done well. O'Brien points out it's not the same as forgiveness -- more like forbearance.

Service to the present: find money to send. Water the corn again.

Responsibility to the future: if there's not much else happening, I will try to save kale seed.

Someone might need it.



Friday, June 12, 2020

On bumps in the road

[This is a repost of a thing written in 2008 (for obvious reasons). Currently U.S. infections of COVID-19 are at about 30% of the world total, with no coherent public policy, and rent for tens of millions comes due soon with unemployment running out -- and in this matter again there is no coherent public policy.]

Most of us want to live, so some may want to hear elders who've thought about resiliency. I've thought about it (and acted on it) over the years, but am rapidly aging out of the skills, the skills to communicate about the skills, and the motivation. Your Mileage May Vary.

Ready for the open road -- we thought.
Back when our family was living a nomadic lifestyle that revolved around tree-planting contracts on mostly federal lands, we pulled a small travel trailer behind an International Travelall with most of our worldly goods in the one or the other.

And one day we left home to go to a contract five hundred miles away, and in ten miles came to a brand-new sign that said, “BUMP.” As in, “the county road crew has removed the top four inches of asphalt from the bridge fifty yards ahead, with a vertical drop at each end, and if you hit it at any speed between five miles an hour and the posted speed of fifty-five at which you are now traveling, well, have we got a surprise for you.”

We saw what was coming, but with three second’s worth of brake time, there was not much to do but grin and bear it.

It took days to sort out our windshield and flour and beans and lamp chimneys and toe-in and trailer tongue and so on, and we lost some work. Fortunately no one was hurt.

All that was, was a bump in the road. But suppose it had been a cliff?

:::

"Civilization" has, since about 1973, seemed to me to be nearing a cliff, so (while younger) I did what I could about it. If you might wish to do the same, read on for some glimpses of doomer hobbies you might take up.


Our solutions were low-tech, and for reasons.

You can do nifty technological off-grid solutions to keep comfy. But for that it helps to be well-heeled, with stable surroundings. In other words, it helps to be a colonizer, so give that a good ethical look before going all in. There might be worse things than being the last one standing. 

When in doubt, be good to your neighbors. Yes, those too, but I mean the ones you maybe weren't expecting to have to be good to. This planet is only 7,917.5 miles in diameter.

Look:


We're on the right. Sustainable is basically on the left. Can't get there from here with the available political will. Systems were under strain before the coronavirus arrived, and are cracking now.

:::

I’ve picked Zen meditation and Bodhisattva precepts as my outgoing hobby -- cheap and portable.


Something else may work better for others.

May we and ours be ever more thoughtful, wise, resourceful, just, and kind in all our dealings than we have been hitherto. 

And may we live in peace and unafraid.




Tuesday, May 05, 2020

That's the ticket

Life in the no-go lane has its benefits. I'm finding starts difficult to keep alive this year (each year seems a little worse) but I have the time to nurse them along, moving flats from place to place as light and temperature dictate. Slowly they are finding their way out to the garden, where some are getting the shade cloth treatment, as they are shockingly sensitive to direct sun -- even when it's 55F out.



Sensing I'd need to re-start the lower garden -- the two thirds nearest the street -- I held my nose and bought black plastic, leaving it over the bindweed for six weeks. Then I began planting, one row at a time, pulling back the plastic and immediately covering the ground with kraft paper. Potatoes I place on the paper and cover with straw and grass clippings.


Plants in four inch pots are punched in right through the paper.


Peas and beans are dropped down a pipe and lightly covered.


We shall see how all this goes. I was ill with "some lung thing" -- no testing was available -- in March, and I'm short of breath. So I sit in the sun when there is sun, or maybe hang out in the hut, drinking "yard tea" and reading.


A friend sent a poem by Basho:
Farmer
Pointing the Way
With a radish
That's the ticket.



Friday, April 17, 2020

Seventy-Two Poems

1

"I hid from the practice for years." Yes,

same same, and then, "well, I have tried
everything else, how about I just

back into this corner and sit it out?"
So, did that, and the blackberries
crawled up the windows like triffids,

mice ran over my numbed feet, spiders
nested in my green flute, and it was all good
because no me ... and then, surprise surprise,

Venus had swung round the setting and also
rising sun, and hovered over dawn like a thing.
Didn't that guy, you know, backed into a corner,

sitting under a tree, look at this and smile?
The hell did he think was so funny? This light
in my tired eyes is not the photons

he saw, or you see, or I will see in so much
as a microsecond, but there it is anyway;
redeemed by all that has been left unsaid.


2

We went to see the place in Walterville.
Before we had even seen the house, the neighbor,
a man of some seventy years, bent with woods work,
stopped to chat. "The house isn't much, but the soil
is good. Oh, it has some Scotch broom, I know,
on the pasture, but you can get ahead of that
if you keep after it. I helped the last folks with
their fence, but they wanted the gate right here,
where the tractor couldn't get in. They'd no sense."
We asked why no fence between his place
and "ours." "Oh, I don't need a fence. Don't want
your apples, and you're welcome to mine."
The sort of thing we'd hoped. We walked over
the pasture till we reached the incense cedars,
each one five feet thick, and found a hanging
branch worn smooth by generations of children's
swinging. Good, and the valley here was wide,
with the mountains stretching east and west,
and sunshine access on short winter days.
But the house wouldn't do; bedrooms dark
and tiny, with telltale smell throughout
of dry rot underneath. Desire for land
sets one dreaming. One acre, three acres--
not enough to farm, but who can farm
with these prices? It becomes a privilege
just to set out onions, and a cow
is not mere luxury, but even a kind of madness
to actually hope for. We have cross fenced
our high-taxed valleys so that to walk straight
for five minutes can't be done, and all
the while buying our produce from five hundred
miles away, where the tractors have as many
wheels as your freeway rig. I want to put
my hands into the ground and make it yield
enough to make my children grow, and not
grow poor in the process. We drove home,
and quarreled along the way about land,
the way people do who have gone to see
not only what they could not have afforded,
but ought not to have desired. The ducks
were glad to see us; she watered them, and I
picked tomatoes, and we kissed and made up,
and lay awake in our small suburban house
beneath the wheeling moon and stars. Why is it,
I wondered then and wonder now, that no one
ever seems to know when they have enough?
When sleep came, there was a vivid dream.
I met again the old man with no fence,
and saw him pointing to the earth. "This
was river bottom in here not too long ago,"
I heard him say. "When we drilled down forty
feet, we hit a driftwood tree, even though
the river now is half a mile away." He opened
up the earth somehow, and showed me the tree,
still caught amid the smooth and rounded stones
deep beneath the topsoil, which now I saw
was dark and rich, as he had said it was.
I reached to touch the soil, and awoke.
The northbound train was rumbling by the house,
carrying produce from industrial farms,
and I was drenched in sweat, and found the moon
had drifted far across the window to the west.


3

Nagarjuna is said to have said

All things are always new; to 
Love successfully, one must 
Leave the shackles of aspiration

There on the floor; there with one's
Heart, which the beloved may be
Inclined to rescue or not,
Never blaming if it remains untouched.
Given that it's a small thing,
Smaller than a star, say, or galaxy.

All we can be sure of is it will melt and
Run as least as easily as that bright ball,
Easily as easily as that spinning wheel.

Actually, that other heart, with its own
Likely implausible intents
Will have -- you know it will have -- known
As much or more of bruising than 
You may fathom, even if ten thousand times told.
So. You may uplift another, or so be lifted up,

Never counting the cost, as that's been paid,
Even each moment as it passes, and paid again.
We are never what we were or will come to be.

We are never what we were or will come to be,
Even, or most especially, that part we treasure,

All while suspecting, rightly enough,
Really, should we scope in 
Ever so close, electron-microscopically,

Nothing is to be found there, not even vacuum.
Even if we squint. Now is not a line,
Vertical, horizontal, with on it a plane, an
Eternally bisecting, precious adamantine soul,
Root being, predestined to arrive, to depart for --

Where? We posit, posit, posture and posit,
Hidden among our lecterns, steering wheels,
Albums, joysticks, transoms, chef's knives, clocks
That only measure motion detected 

When the observer observes, tickling our blood-fed
Eyes and ears with data. And 

Were we to close with a truth, would it
Engender despair? No doubt for some,
Redlined by sudden or gradual perception.
"End it," they may say. And who will judge?

"End it, they may say." And who will judge?
Not I, for one. What comes is unlike even
Darkness, this observer 

Infers from reading of history. We are told
Temujin, de Pizan, Marlowe and Marat walked

The earth, but I don't remember meeting them.
Here is May of nineteen forty-nine: within  
Earshot of none of them did I scream.
You might say this is not proof; I agree, but

May we for a moment try to envision
All the non-universe that greets our shocked and
Yelling entry? What taste has "before?"

And then my last agonal breath -- the same.
All thoughts unspool onto the hospice floor;
Yearnings compile into less than nothing.

Yearnings compile into less than nothing,
Earnings vanish,  the stylus lifts from 
All good will and the tonearm parks.
Running from this is what we do: sneering
"Nihilism" does not avail;
It's how it is. "I will
Never speak to you again" 
Gets attention from only the living, and if
Sealed lips of the even dearly departed 

Could say but one thing, it would be that.
Oh, well. You and I are not un-
Made yet, or so we may aver, second after
Precious second. Like so many others
I try to bind my wound thus: forgo killing,
Lying, stealing, cheating, drunk-dialing,
Explaining away, boasting, grasping, 

Irritating, blaspheming. But can find
No inherent link, being unconvinced
The cleft-palate infant's karma 
Or parents' sin brought on this state.

"Less is more," said Ockham. I've tried to
Eat a bit less superstition, a little more 
Science, since even early school days;
Still, there really should be better signage.

Still, there really should be better signage,
don't you think? I mean, I could sit
until my ears bleed, and fill my "third eye" with

prismatic Dharma wheels; fun for me, or
exhausting, take your pick, but ultimately
just paperwork for you, if you're the EMT.

Wittgenstein has charted this, as have Krishna-
murti and, I suppose, any number of
gurus, but a lot of them just want yoni.

It's old ground, plowed over (like me) 
till the mud rains away, rivers 
silt up and the fish roll over and stink.

The reason so much nothing smells of rot
is easily enough determined: death is not,
in spite of our having tried to make that case,

nothing -- is that smell. These fish have been
transformed, transmigrated, transmogrified,
or maybe just transitioned, into choice

caviar for bacteria and such. Same for ontology.
We cannot make it hold still
long enough to say, "this it is."

Long enough to say, "this it is,"
One may walk or run (or ride or fly); yet
New vistas are the old vistas still.
Go, on, see another waterfall. It is

Exhilerating, we admit. Having counted
Newts and mosses and wet stones,
Or taken some dozens of e-photos to
Upload to the eyes of friends; having
Gotten our sweaters wet enough to,
Homeward bound, develop a hacking cough,

To, shedding layers by the stove, glowingly speak
Of how it is in places not much breathed upon,

Still we are as we were, pushing buttons, 
Alternating colorful visions click by click,
Yelling at grinsome ghosts of  politicians.

Therefore nether this nor that: having
disproven both all things and their opposites,
admire the morning star, whatever it may be.

4

Whenever we worked at the creekside shed
there was always something else to do
such times as we were stumped, or nails ran short,

or the sun reached round the fir and baked us down 
from raftering, roofing, or the like. 
We leaned, gossip-like, against the fresh framing

of the walls, sipping solar tisanes,
watching the edge of a cloud's long skirt 
chase the neighbors' horses leisurely

across their pasture, down the camas swale
and up the other side, against the black 
contrast of maple-shrouded hills. 

The horses liked to amble up to our corner, 
stand and watch. We couldn't cure them of the shies,
though we might try with handfuls

of our green grass, or a few choice coaxing words. 
They'd check us out: first one black blink from behind
the forehead blaze, and then another, 

cocking their long heads round to see
our self-assured, predatory faces, eyes front,
gazing on them, horse-flesh accountants 

by their reckoning. Their flanks
would shiver, and their forefeet stamp,
scoring the earth in a language built of weight. 

Some movement would always spook them off: 
a silvery chisel hefted, or water bottle sloshed,
spattering sun. They'd hammer up the swale; 

Lovingly we'd watch them go, coveting
our neighbors' lands and all that lived thereon,
as country folk in August always do.


5

She'll choose two cans of color, exploring them 
for the soft caramel of good set, putting aside 
flakes of air-dried dross with her inking knife.

One, a can of orange stuff, she's been given 
for imprinting brew-pub six-packs; the knife 
scoops up a dollop and ferries it to the disk.

The other is your standard black; the smallest 
bubble of this she'll add to the orange, and stir,
in hope of a decent brown. A heave of the flywheel

begins the inking-up: the disk turns a bit
with each revolution of the wheel, and the ink, 
smashed paper-thin by rollers, spreads evenly

across its face, painting it, painting the rollers, 
as her foot pumps the treadle, and her face admires, 
as it always does, the view from here,

of garden dressed in straw, of mountain air 
training the rainbow windsock northward, 
of Jasper Mountain becoming a hill of gold

in the sunset. Gathering the furniture, reglets, 
quoins, quoin key, and the new magnesium cut, 
she locks the chase, fastens it to the bed, shoves

the wheel, this time with impression lever on, 
and lets the cut kiss the clean tympan paper
with an image. Around this image she sets quads,

tympan bales, and bits of makeready, and prepares 
the stacked sheets to be fed from the feed board 
into the maw of the Chandler & Price, known

to pressmen for a hundred fifty years 
as the Hand Snapper. She reaches for the radio's knob. 
Rachmaninoff? Damn. Oh, well, turn

wheel, pump treadle, lean forward, lean back, 
click-click, click CLACK, work-and-turn,
deliver the finished sheets to the delivery board,

admire mountain, lean forward, lean back. 
Rachmaninoff gives way to Mozart's glorious 
forty-first symphony, Jasper Mountain

gives way to night, and in the black window 
a woman in her fifties, leaning forward, 
leaning back, critically appraising the music,

the printing, and herself, click-click, click CLACK, 
sour bones and a game leg but a job well done 
and the Mozart's Mozart. Four hundred sheets

later, and well into Bruch, the wheel stops, 
the chase is unclamped, the disk and rollers 
washed up, and rags canned. The reflected

window-crone lifts a sheet of work
to the light, examines impression and matter. 
Reaching to silence Bruch, she sees the stilling

silhouette of the rainbow windsock:
it waits for dawn; for fair and lofting wind.



The potting room was a miserable dank shed, 
trash-chocked, roofed in plastic, blackberries 
ingrown amid bedlam. she dragged it all into

the light, sifting for tools or nails, then consigning 
the rest to dump runs. With one son, the quiet one, 
she roofed the room with scraps,

tucking, there, or here, oddly-sized old windows. 
To the south, a sliding door turned on its side 
served for greenhouse glass. A friend's offer

of a chimney to salvage solved the question 
of how to floor. With her other son, the tall one, 
she rented a long-legged ladder for picking bricks

from the air, frightened at every ragged breath.
They piled them by the plant-room door, and the girl, 
last child, brimful of jokes and laughter, brought

bricks to her from the pile, which she set face up
in a herringbone pattern. They swept sand and mortar 
into the cracks, and danced in the sunbeams then.

Now for a bench, new-painted green for the color
of wishing, and pots of all sizes, flats too,
with a tall can for watering. She hankered for lettuce

in winter, and sowed the flats in October. After
a month, wild geese and their musical throats gone south, 
she noted her seedlings spindly and sad, so taking

hammer and two-by sixes, built a quick cold frame
with the other half of the always helpful sliding
door. By the sunny south wall in the duck pen she framed it,

and dibbled the seedlings within. They liked that, 
but a darkness comes on in December; after a full day, 
full week, one comes home exhausted, to eat,

to sleep, not to water gardens. One thing
only has saved the lettuce: the ducks do not like 
coming in for the night. She goes into the dark

to disturb them; they rush about complaining;
the madwoman hops and chuckles. She locks them 
away from coyotes, and turns, as in afterthought, to visit

her seedlings. By feel she gives them water, 
her hands stretching toward summer in unseen leaves.


7

She turned up the weeds without pity, 
spreading their roots before the sun. Most of them died, 
though a few tenacious grasses rolled over

when she was not looking, and sucked earth
till she found them skulking about, and banished 
them to the heap with the egg shells and old tea leaves.

Returning to the scene of the massacre, she placed 
a five-tined fork before her, pointed toward
the earth's core. On its step she placed her boot's

sole, and drove its teeth home, tearing living soil. 
She did this many times, and in her hearing,
the dark loam whispered in protest. But what

was she to do? One must eat, and the white seeds 
in their packet were waiting for the sun.
She carried a blue denim bag at her side,

zippered it open, feeling about in its depths 
like the housewife at the station platform seeking 
her ticket for the last train --

Seizing her prize, she held it in a soiled palm, 
reading the runes of inscription:
"Date of last frost"; "zone three," "days

to maturity." How many days now to her own maturity? 
Not to be thought of. Her hand trembled. 
Tearing the thin paper rind,

she tipped out contents: a shirtfront
of buttons. Five seeds to a hill she counted, 
pinching their graves over them: three hills.

And on to other tasks. The rainmaker whispered 
over hilled earth all
the zone's days to maturity, and the date

of first frost held true. Almost forgotten in the rush 
of gathering in others: beans and corn, tomatoes-- 
she sought them last in October, the golden

fruits of that planting. Her other crops
talk to her; the Hubbards never do. 
(What are they dreaming at, over there? She brings out the knife.)

Now it is March, she remembers having gathered 
the silent, sulking Hubbards. How are they faring? 
A look into the pantry reveals them,

dour and uncommunicative, all
huddled like bollards on the high shelf.
She chooses one to halve on the kitchen block.

Scooping out seeds to dry and roast later,
she bakes the halves till soft, slipping off skins 
per Rombauer & Becker. "Dice them,

and in a mixing bowl add butter, brown sugar, 
salt, ginger, and move the lot to the mixer, 
remembering to add milk." With a bowl

of silent Hubbard thus richly dressed,
she goes to the living room, asking blessing 
of the gods of the steel fork and the weeds,

the rainmaker, the packet of white seeds, 
booted foot and blue denim bag
and the longtime summer sun, eating,

listening to a fugue by J. S. Bach.


8

Sometimes 

this is what you'll come to, picking about in earth, 
pulling bindweed roots
like long white worms and heaping them

beside you of a morning: you will become 
distant and glum, and as your wrists dry up, 
caked in clay, you'll look around you, and

not your small red barn, your irises,
your bamboo patch, your oak and ash,
your three brave maples rattling in the breeze,

your small house bracketed in lilacs, breathing smoke, 
your woodshed stacked roof-high,
your mint and parsley putting on new life,

your geese, your ducks, your pear trees in bright bloom 
will rid you of the thought of what this is
that you are digging, bit by troweled bit.

Assuming the sun will come out, which now it does, 
things won't seem quite that bad, and yet you will 
walk stooped, with furrowed

brow, into the house for a late cold lunch 
without words, for there are no words
to share what it was the cold ground

said to your hands just now.

Or, sometimes

you'll come to this, lovingly rooting in earth, 
gently setting to one side
fat worms, watching them

sink from sight with shrugs of their nonexistent shoulders. 
As your wrists dry up, caked
in clay, you'll look around you, and

your small red barn, your irises,
your bamboo patch, your ash and oak,
your three unfurling maples whispering in the breeze,

your white house bracketed in lilacs, breathing smoke, 
your woodshed stacked with fir,
your mint and parsley putting on new life,

your pears and apples, your geese in their bright plumes 
will bring to you the thought of what this is
that you are digging, bit by troweled bit.

Assuming that the clouds will come, which now they do, 
you will take things as they are,
and so you simply walk, with even-tempered

gaze, toward the house for a late cold lunch: 
one without words, for there are no words 
to share what it was your hands

said to the green earth even now.


9

When they returned from building the kay-dam 
(of logs and drift pins, to make again
a place where salmon might yet spawn)
they divvied up: each hauled a pack frame 
loaded with tools and sundries, twice down the canyon 
to its end, then up the old fire trails
a mile and a half, ducking vine maples
all the way, to the parked trucks. A third trip for each 
would end the business,
but night came on, as it generally does;
they might have come back another day, 
but as the moon was full, down they went.
One folded and refolded the old tent and packed it away, 
while the others sat, taking down the old sheepherder stove,
dumping ashes, talking. 
She would walk ahead, she said, and slumped off 
down the scoured sandstone ledge of the dry wash, 
admiring, even in near exhaustion, 
the old moon drifting among the snags. 
She came upon the canyon with its pools and riffles,
and, regarding the first fire trail
as too steep, trudged on to the second, 
wading a beaver pond. Logs at the head,
old growth, lay jackstraw piled, and she footed along them 
easily, as she had done
in dozens of such draws. A big cedar sighed,
turned lovingly in its sleep, and with
an almost inaudible click, closed over her shoe. 
There was with her no axe, no lever of any kind.
She stood knee deep in black water, 
too far from the landing to be heard, neatly caught. 
What if her co-workers took that other trail?
She looked back as she let slip her heavy pack, seeing 
no movement but the falling moon, 
knowing that one alone in such a place
has, while there, no name at all.


10

At this high bridge begins silence, 
even as whitecapped water beneath
runs against rock and fills the hearing

with its white roar; this is not the sound 
of human trivialities, of men disrespecting 
women, women turning aside

with embarrassed smiles from men, 
the sound of pulling of tabs, 
ripping of aluminum, assorted

purrs and rumbles of fire along the pavement, 
wrapped in steel. She gathers her oldest friends, 
space blanket, matchsafe, whistle, map,

cheese, bread, water bottle, and poncho, 
stuffs them in her old firefighter's vest. 
This is a new place, but deduction finds

the lightly traveled path, snaking across 
a landscape steeped in stillness.
The vine maples have yet no leaves,

and the moss-lined nests in their jointures 
contain no eggs. There are times
when tall firs on these ridges

creak and suffer, a forest of bent masts
in a wind-smashed harbor: this is no such time. 
She has been used to walking alone in forests;

has walked among peaks dawn-rosed
at sunrise, or hunkered under wuther
of rain-heavy winds, or under smother of clouds

among tree-trunks. Now, for a sudden, she stops,
 puzzling her alienness. What can be different? 
There are yellow violets,

trilliums, oxalis. She gathers moss and horse lettuce, 
a couple of conks, and pebbles, yet connection
is missing. Her heart leaps cold in her chest,

and her pulse rattles. On an impulse she whirls 
round on her track, examines
the trail behind her and a hillside of

silences. The silence is plural, but how
do you read absence? What does she not see? 
Bear? Cougar? It is a feeling one has

when the sights of the rifle are trained 
on the back of one's neck. Often in life 
she has felt this, but only in cities

and the lifelines of cities, those rivers
of asphalt and their pageant of strangers. 
She must establish herself here, she feels;

some introduction has been omitted. 
She searches her vest and locates an old pipe,
a treasure remaining from another life;

it goes where she goes, though she thinks of it 
seldom. There is little tobacco in the bowl, 
but enough, and she chooses a bit of mountain,

a leaf of kinnikinnik, to add. Self-consciously 
borrowing culture, she aims the pipe
at four points of the compass, the grey sky,

the soundless earth at her feet, then sits 
fumbling with the lid of her matchsafe. 
Fire lit, she sends smoke quietly aloft.

It rises uncertainly, then finds the drift
of cold air sliding downslope into evening. 
Whatever seemed angry seems to her angry still,

but gives way before the smoke of offering,
and makes with her a capful of truce: 
she will not be eaten today, it seems, tripped up, or smashed.

She will not name the place, "place where I broke my leg" 
or "place where I lost my spirit."
In return, she must finish this hike now

and not soon return. Replacing the horse lettuce, 
conks, moss, and stones, she wryly smiles
a little: if this is superstition, so let it be,

she says to herself. We do what we have to do. 
The silence, which she'd thought a hieroglyph 
of an unknown tongue, nods and agrees.


11

The wall her father built to muscle back
the brown flood waters of the creek still stands. 
It leans away from the run and hugs the contour

of serpentine embankment, redeeming 
years of silt by interlacing a thousand granite slabs
against the tide of spring and spill of storm.

He could not bear the thought of land he'd
paid for picking up to run away downstream, 
ending in useless mingling with other men's dirt

deep at the foot of the continental shelf
ten miles beyond the Chattahoochee's mouth.
So he built. Each day, though tired from climbing

poles in Georgia sun for the Georgia Rail Road, 
he slowly removed his cotton shirt and sank
to his knees in the creek, feeling for stones

with his bare toes, prying them out of their beds 
with a five-foot iron bar. He heaved them up, 
wet and substantial, on the opposite bank,

and judged them, then carried them, 
staggering under the load, to their exact spot in the 
rising wall, setting them down like Hammurabi's laws, never

to be revoked. The whole he stocked and faced with 
wet cement his daughter carried to him, 
breathless, in a pair of buckets slung

from a home-carved yoke. Wall done,
he capped it with a pointing trowel, and with his finger 
wrote the child's name and the year

nineteen fifty-five, which you will find today
if you scrape back moss. The house has had
six owners since, and of these none has given thought

to who prevented their foundation washing out with 
freely offered labor long ago: or perhaps they have. 
There's something in a wall's

being there that speaks of someone's having 
lived and looked upon the land, giving shape to time and place. 
Then taking stone in hand:


12

Spring, and spring of her life also. She walks
to water to stand behind sedges, thinking of 
snakes. And snakes come. First one, lazily, tail

sculling, head high, counterclockwise along
shore, and then another. And then -- another.
All going, she notes, the same way round. Next day,

incorrigible child, she rigs a black fly rod
with stout green line tied, butt end and tip end: 
a snare. Back to the sun-long lake. The snakes

continue their rounds. She casts loop, she waits. 
One comes, riding high in clear water, black eye bright. 
Caught, the looping, livid thing

bends the rod double almost. On close inspection 
she speaks its given name: common water snake. 
Proudly she touches the twisting ribbon of flesh,

but it turns to sink four quiet rows of teeth 
deep in the base of her thumb. Shamefaced, 
she lets the bright creature go; it swims sedately,

maddeningly counter-clockwise: nothing
has happened to change its agenda. 
Rod forgotten, she sinks to her knees among sedges to watch

fishing men quietly fishing in beech-shade, 
shading her eyes with her still throbbing hand.


13

Here was a man who was known as an Oregon poet.
He never wasted words. He wrote a poem

Every day, rain or shine, and so he had some
rain poems and some shine poems and if people

came to him saying, sir, give us a book he would turn
and rummage in desk drawers or grope

along shelves in the kitchen. Pretty soon
there was their book, bright as Sunday morning

but sharp, too, like bottle glass. He'd hand
it to them carefully, carefully. And it was

their hint. After that they'd have to look out for themselves,
and that, I guess, was his Oregon message.


14

Whiteness enough off that coast to last a summer, 
with chunks sized to drift among swells
like lost boats rising bottoms up to glimmer,

then dropping from a coastal watcher's view 
halfway from here to wherever it is sky comes 
down to touch water, blue on blue,

or even larger continents of white
shot through with green, shouldering breakers 
with unhurried calm, things for night

to break on, or even day. You and I,
not having seen such before, go out
to frame each other with one in a camera's eye

and watch a schooner nosing among bays 
scalloped along fringes of the beast.
The little ship goes near, but turns away

over and over to run, a cur who knows how strong 
the behemoth it harries, how final its mere touch. 
The white rock nothing notes, but wades along,

a mindless thing, and yet it knows command: we 
think of the Titanic, sleeping in her mud -- 
having discharged frail cargo on the sea.


15

Round the circle of her garden she walks, 
and stops again, taking in, as one absent from her own
senses yet unwilling to forgo their gifts,

the half-dimmed light of a low, prepubescent moon, 
its influence on lingering clouds,
some few stars brave enough to compete with

mercury vapor or halogen or tungsten,
and taking in also the pungent garlic border, 
its enclosure of bean vines, celery, snap peas:

celebratory things, even in this half-light,
this dew of forgotten hours. Her feet,
though well shod, warn her of night, by noting

slow seep of dew round toes and heels.
Her hand, brushing wet night-blooming jasmine, 
shrinks from chill. These, and trees

she has encouraged -- apple, plum, pear, cherry, 
maple, ash -- seem to her reproachful, watching, 
as it were, her heart begin to slip

to a life they cannot share. Beyond, in a stillness 
of curtained rooms, her children,
innocent of this need, dream of loss.


16

They do not always sit with an easy grace,
the aging: in afternoon light, even in October, 
cracks invade her clear skin,

showing in relief, and he knows dismay, 
seeing her, his own once simple face 
crowding itself, as when a life within

doors runs out of thought. Yet, sober
as this renders him, he will not turn away 
from her to seek some easier play:

there is no win or lose, no hunt, no race, no battle. 
His eyes would disrobe her, for she 
is to him more than she has been,

and he would know all, even here,
as passers pass, not seeing what his eyes see; 
but he will wait on her clear sign

that this is welcome, even from his gaze,
for she has known most men hold themselves dear; 
known too long their avarice that she

should shape to their dreams, their ways,
their endless drawing round her of sharp lines, 
their wrapping an arm carelessly round her days,

their failing, in this many years, to touch 
the key moment of her heart, that movement lacking 
fear when she might freely give, without design.

Placing her hand in his, she shifts and sighs;
a not unhappy sound, considering the hour
and how late, as well, this man has come to her:

five decades they have lived apart,
as though all meaning had to be deferred;
as though some god, having hated happy hearts,

had suddenly relented, offering them this prize.


17

As the rains return again, she notes, 
almost in passing, how her strait love remains; 
how darkness, wind, and sorry days of

work and worry cannot shake it. 
We are not built to last; we know that. 
Some speak of life as it were stark tragedy alone, a

trudging from diaper to death bed, 
doomed because end it must. Others try, by seeking 
comedic relief, to put such gloom aside,

assuming that to live brightly today will, somehow, 
pay for the pain of barely living later, 
when last years have but begun.

Her truth: somewhere between. She would,
if the gods permitted, lose herself 
in your eyes every day of forever, but knowing this

will end, and relatively soon, makes her not 
over-sad, nor will she lie to you now
with thoughtless laughter; rather it makes her

carefully love you, deeply as she does here, 
breathing your name in, breathing it out, like prayer.


18

I stop at the flower lady's cart to see 
if she has roses. There are a few, 
with straggling leaves. The blooms

are decent still, especially those in pink. 
She interrupts her desultory lunch, 
brushing crumbs from her sleeve, to slip

a long-stemmed pink from among the buds, 
carries it to her work table, and deftly wraps 
the stalk in a yellow paper, tying it,

gentle-fingered, with a thin red ribbon.
I watch her eyes as I buy; they are like
those in the face I love, but the spirit is closed:

she has dwelt upon disappointments. 
As I turn away, I see in my mind's
eye, myself turning back to buy for her

one of her own roses. Ha! no doubt she must 
throw away many; of all things, 
wouldn't she be sick, by now, of flowers?

Trading, as she does, in these signs
of happiness to others, what would be happiness 
for her, here, today? I catch

her tracking me warily; now, 
as if to say: is there some problem with the rose? 
No. Or, rather, yes. Or no. I stand, unworded

by the mystery of unsharable joy.


19

"There was a word

for that -- I am forgettin' it; forgettin' things 
I thought I'd never not know --
As I once understood th' way a shackle will turn

to follow th' wire rope reaching back to th' pulley, 
or which way th' water will run when it falls
from th' crook of an east-leaning alder in th' rain,

or run from an alder's elbow that leans west, 
when th' storm comes in, always from southwest. 
Oh, th' word! A short one, I should be able to just

say it! Clevis! Yes, we called a shackle a Clevis,
I don't know why. So, John, he picked up th' Clevis 
and hung it on th' drawbar of the Cat, slipped

th' loop onto it, and reached to set th' pin;
but Alley, he thought he'd heard John say "Ready," 
an' put her into gear. So. That wire rope

sang just like a bowstring, an' th' Clevis
rotated right around th' slot in th' drawbar
an' went through John like he was made of suet.

He stood there for a moment -- like me now – 
trying to remember. Fixin' in his mind
what it had been like, bein' alive."


20

When her back began alarmingly
to creak, and all the earth receded far below, 
she made herself a bench, a slat

of fir between two other slats of fir. 
Her knees derided her presumption, 
so she tacked a bit of carpet on, to ease 

the landings when she launched them out and down, 
hoping, as she did so, nothing was
missing: not the ho-mi, nor the seeds

or seedlings in their flat, or soil she'd stolen 
from the neighbor's molehills, baked and sifted, 
nor the hose-end with its chilly hand

of brass. Any unpresent thing could send her 
wandering from barn to potting shed
to kitchen counter, swearing at herself,

ending in her having yet another
cup of something, using up the morning's 
bag of tea -- again. Gardening

is knowing what to do, and when, they say, 
leaving out that bit about old brains forgetting 
what to do about forgetting.


21

It is so dry now, my desiccated friend
spits in the bowl of his pipe before applying flame 
to its bitter balm, for some kind of balance.

We tread on rustling mulch to study rustling 
leaves, folded in desperate prayer, of what will surely be, 
still, next year, an orchard and a kitchen garden

if -- large if -- the well does not run dry. 
Everywhere flit wasps, sipping at beetles' abdomens, 
having small aphids for dessert.

The birds have capped their singing, panting in
small shade. "Ninety, ninety, ninety-three and ninety, 
ninety-seven today, and ninety yet

for all the week ahead, with this drying wind. 
Don't you think things are getting out of hand?" 
I ask him. He blows a little rueful smoke

but makes no answer. I anyway know from long 
acquaintance his position: "there is a law,
and you and I and all these aching things

can never break it." It's that second law
of course, the one that is the silence heard 
after all laughter, after songs and tears.

Soon the moon will rise, grand but red, 
dressed in soot from a dozen cackling fires.


22

When Polyhymnia sends refracted light 
shimmering toward parched and shriveled roots, 
seeking some semblance of promise kept alive between 
her hands, her well, her seeds and soil,

A bit of fluff, a female Anna's, comes
to perch nearby, cocking its tiny head
and waiting. Waiting for the hose to steady its cold blast 
toward some fainting eggplant

or tomatillo, ready for a burst of aimed
delight, catching one rainbowed drop of water short, 
then flitting to the fence again,
shivering. To the Muse of hymns and farmers it's

a game, to the throbbing ball of feathers more. 
Its heart will stop without the gift of rain.


23

Polyhymnia walks between the beds
critical of eye, noting the way the leaves of 
corn have curled upon themselves,

rattling in hardly any breeze at all.
They'd like to make believe it's Autumn now, 
would they? Playing at getting past the part

where seed heads form, waving their silky hair, 
and then depart, leaving the leaves bereft
of any purpose but to leave this world -- 

except, of course, they don't: that is the gift of mulch. 
She brings the hose and couples to
its end a yellow whirligig, made to sing

the holy song of water to the leaves.
Today, green fullness. Tomorrow, living grain.


24

Upon slowly waking, she

rouses from a dream of fear. Suppressing a moan, 
spine filled with fluids overnight, yes, again, 
and ankles still in pain. Across

the flanks of her beloved she now crawls, 
stumbles round the room to find the handle
of her life, or only the door, sliding her feet along.

A floor creaks with dry rot as she steps among 
objects that reshape her: bloomers, slips, 
half-slips, girdles, bras, tights, stockings.

She feels, Braille-fingered, for the small room 
where all who seek may find that men or women are
only men or women; here they see themselves

before any other's eyes, and by a harsh light.
Her eye looks deeply through her from the glass; 
tells her that her sorrows are contemptible. So?

She does not plan to die today, no, nor call in sick, 
returning to the now cold sheets, seeking
to resolve that awful dream. Call it what you will,

habit if you like, but she carries herself 
into the living room, satisfactory sight, remodeled 
somehow, despite poverty: white walls

and ceiling, cleanly textured, fireplace patched, 
mantel graced with oil lamps and seemly books: 
here she dresses. Outside, darkness, low

clouds, and the rattling of busy downspouts.
She shrugs. Through kitchen to the cold mudroom, 
listening to the change in foot-fall of her heels,

from wood to tile, to concrete, she moves on, 
pace quickening. No entropy now stops her. 
Gathering her bent umbrella and stained coat,

she opens a door. She walks out to the world.


24

Perhaps the seedlings were better off inside,
Really. She's never sure what's best for them,
All down the years trying peat pots, blocks,
Yanking down flats from storage, penciling markers, 
Ingratiating herself with baked soils,
Now trying perlite, vermiculite, moss, 
Getting out lamps and heaters, rotating flats,

Fighting intruding snails, mice and rats 
Or even knotweed and bindweed 
Running their tendrils up through brick.

Right now, she wishes she hadn't hurried. 
All her helpless babies in cracked clay!
If it doesn't rain tonight, she tells herself, 
Never again shall I call April May.


25

While watching forests comb those wet bellies, 
All grey and louring, of the heartless clouds,
I wondered how the heavy earth breathes
Thus more than dampened, more than drowned 
In so much rain. The very snails could gasp, 
Nudging toward such daylight as they might, 
Grudged them by the endless drops, dropping.

Fear for my crops, standing in chill pools
Or bent, prostrated, shambled, lying left and 
Right, I feel, yet not enough to go and see.

There are tree branches, if I go, ready to pull 
Hair, poke eyes, and shower me to my skin, 
Every direction, along each path and bed.

Running streamlets ease a darkening land
All river-bound, discovering the slightest slope, 
Inland being anathema to them,
No place like home, their wide and welcoming sea.

There all streams meet, mingle, and play. 
Ocean the lowest place, where rain may end in

Stillness some times, or leap about, yet bounded. 
There it may stop awhile, then one day mist forth 
Over the waves and shores, plains and mountains 
Putting forth life and death again, a cycle.


26

Along the new trail, built by no one I knew,
acorns had fallen by thousands, more than enough 
to leave creatures dazed by too much fortune.

Conkers have tumbled among them, each 
experimentally chipped and then rejected by 
some set of tiny teeth. Hazel nuts

were better, it seems. Should an adder pass 
en route to denning, amid this rich mast, amid
this late fall of goldened leaves of ash

and beech, I might merely step aside, 
unalarmed as any fattened squirrel. 
Across the pasture, I remember, past

the partly shaded ferns, cowslips, bluebells, 
buttercups of spring and summer, where 
falling water, catkin-patterned, drowned out

the cygnet's cry in an otter's teeth (witnessed
by a kingfisher, two low-flying larks and a heron), 
a willow had leaned to hide that tiny sorrow

and also shade a loafing spotted newt. The hill behind, 
where bees sought nectar of a kind from sunburnt 
heather, swept up to a copse of oak,

wrapped in a druid's dream of mistletoe and ivy. 
There I had paused for dandelion wine.
Perhaps the trail will help some find this place.

My children, do not forget there is a world.


27

She knows the weeds will win. Sometimes, at night, 
Hearing them grow in her dreams, she'll wake, grasp 
Even in her two hands, a phantom thistle, or

Knotweed, errant blackberry, or teasel.
Now not able to turn and sleep, she'll rise, throw 
On her robe, and step out into night;
Walking the way the slim moon shows her,
She throws aside her garden gate and listens.

There might be corn and tomatoes chatting, 
Having about as much to say as farmed things. 
Even a whisper among the kales and chard --

Whatever such things say. Beyond are beds 
Ensnarled in dock, barnyardgrass, bindweed, 
Everlasting bindweed vines.
Dire straits; but there's no sound there.
She knows they're biding their time,

Watching for her sudden return, sickle
In hand, fire in eye, seed packets in mind. 
Level them, they fear she means to, or 
Leave roots drying in summer sun.

Well, that's tomorrow. She turns now; steps 
Into her lightless house. She'll give this up 
Not soon, yet knows how it must end.


28

There are two climbing roses by her gate, one to 
each side, with velvet blooms, small, but 
heavily scented, suitable for soaps, salves

and potpourri. They blossom out together, 
several hundred, perhaps a thousand whorls 
French pink, shading to cream, the haunt

of matching shy arachnids. How tall they'd grow 
she doesn't know, having twined an arch of 
willow whips atop her gate, to bind them to.

In her middle years, her family took this place 
and named it for the stony creek, dry
in summer, rolling through between house

and garden. A storm year came; that garden 
up and vanished down a river to the sea,
leaving them three dead plum trees and a rose.

She started fresh, by the house. For the rose
she chose north, a shaded wall, and while the bush 
liked a hidden spring there, for drinking,

it never cared for the paucity of light. 
It'd stretch its greeny fingers roofward, up
and over; send roots drilling left and right;

make awkward shoots. Shift it one more time,
she thought. Maybe both sides of a sunny gate 
she'd build, with an arch. The spot she had in view

she could muse on from her kitchen window.
Again two days of digging, and with her bow saw 
made one rose two. Would they take another journey?

It seemed they would, though they'd always want water; 
She'd have to remember to make the hoses reach.
She wouldn't mind if the roses wouldn't mind.


29

What she will do today is walk and take in 
Hand her apple staff, leaning on it
As she does now, more and yet more
The nearer arriving to a last heart beat

She comes, and check for vegs and berries.
Here are yet more peas; she's not as
Eager for them as three days ago.

With a bit more busy-ness, she'd go 
In for blanching those. Onions and 
Leeks too small yet; almost out of 
Lettuce; tomatoes on the other hand

Doing well, and some ready already. 
Oh, she could cut kale, collards or chard

This morning like any late spring morning, 
Only she's hungry for something more.
Do what she will, there are yet no pears, 
Apples, zukes, potatoes, corn, or beans. 
You must make with what you have.


30

Three deep breaths, palms together,
Here in her room, or elsewhere, she may 
Rise and take. A habit she has formed, 
Even as most of her ideas, ideals,
Even her so cherished findings, hard found,

Deducted, inducted, reasoned, debated, polished, 
Even those most like faith, as taught her,
Even those most like science, measured, observed, 
Peeled one by one: a human desert, she.

By three deep breaths, she centers somehow: how? 
Reality itself a question she's no longer asking, 
Eating and sleeping themselves provisional.
All she bothers to call caring is now to listen
To breath, room sounds, outside sounds, to
Her friends, their worries unpacked, their voices 
Spending both hope and pain. She bows.


31

Commonly, this is done with herbicide.
Leery of that, she tried a chain saw. That was 
Easy enough, but made fumes and sets fire to 
All the earth's air over time. Electric clippers 
Ruled the roost awhile, but that, we know,
In the scheme of things is but a longer tailpipe, 
Neither the labor direct nor personal. She's 
Going to have to simplify further. She takes

The hand pruner with her to the patch. It means 
Her time in blighted shade, bending, will be 
Extended, reaching to each stem in turn,

Killing with a snip and twist, dragging four or five 
Not so much weeds as small trees outward
Or upward from the dry wash, toward hot sun, 
Toward the roasting garden, into the paths 
Where they'll be tossed as instant mulch 
Entreating the drought to respect their shade, 
Entreating irrigation not to evaporate,
Dimming, in sacrifice, the roving eye of Death.


32

She has work to do, establishing
Her anchor threads, her frame threads, 
Even her bridge thread and all her radii,

Hub to be ready by dawn, herself resting -- 
All-powerful, so far as any lacewing can 
See. Seeking out the ripest berries, she

Works not to eat drupelets, but entirely to 
Offer them as bait to fruit flies and their ilk. 
Right away along comes another
Killer, a ladybird beetle, seeking the berries

Too, and for the same reason. He's caught, 
Offers resistance, is overwhelmed, rolled up,

Done. Whatever comes in, if protein, her 
Ovum will accept. Death it is brings life.


33

Where are the potatoes, she wondered, watching 
Heat shimmer across her corn block, its leaves 
Each rustling against other, turning brown. 
Right here they were planted, next bed over, 
Evenly spaced, in two long lines, eyes up

And covered in soft soil, mixed with compost --
Really exactly as she had done these fifty years.
Early next morning, she reached for her mason's hammer,

The experiment with the spud hook having failed, and 
Heaving her old bones down onto her gardening stool 
Exactly at the end of that mysterious weedy bed;

Pulled block after block of solid hexagonal clod 
Over, busting up each as she went, feeling for 
That coolness she knew as round starch balls 
All her life she'd depended on. It's not
That she hadn't watered and weeded, no,
Or fought those gophers well, newly arrived. 
Earth could not drink for once, it seemed. 
Some spuds appeared. They were even

Smaller than those from last year. Some felt 
Hollow. Some were cracked. Some were
Even green with poisons though they'd grown

Well deep enough never to have seen sun.
Oh, well, she thought, I'll take what I can get; 
Now we'll have barley for every other soup, with 
Dandelion to help stretch out my kale. This 
Earth, she told herself, never did all,
Really even in days of rain. Barley I bought.
Ere I go forth from here as buried flesh or ash, I'll 
Do as I have done: work with what is.


34

These are highlands, in a region of highlands, 
so not especially notable. It takes a long
time to get there, though the graveled road

is short enough; park and walk -- not far,
but bring a lunch and water. Sign in; it's wilderness 
according to the kiosk and its map.

Immediately you have shade. These are
Douglas fir, mountain hemlock, perhaps
some red cedar. Beneath, on both sides the trail,

a scattering of vine maple, ocean spray, 
rhododendron, and, in the draws, willow. 
Sometimes bear grass is in flower;

not this year. As late season turns, first
vanilla leaf, then devil's club, then red huckleberry, 
then the blue, will shade through

gold to sienna to cranberry: cool nights. 
Kinnikinnick under foot will be your sign 
you are straying; do not lose the path.

Along the way are springs, but they are dry; 
near them are holes of mountain beaver,
a town like that of prairie dogs. You will

not see them; they go abroad at night. Admire 
twinflowers and trilliums, though they are 
past bloom. So it is as well

with gooseberry and false Solomon's seal -- 
they are tired now, and long for snow.
As your path turns upon itself and climbs

rocks and trees will change to andesite and alpine fir; 
soil to red dust, shrubs
to ceanothus. Now you discover that view

eyes come here to see; a mountainscape
of scree and scarp and what remains of ice, 
not far away as the crows fly, yet leaning

over miles of air, blue with smoke and firs.
You may eat, and drink your water, leaving some 
for your return. Wait here for me a bit

while I go to see a stone nearby
where both my parents' ashes lie at rest.


35

She stands in wet and likes it; drips rolling around 
the brim of her split-bamboo conical hat 
to fall on thirsting clay. Here's

weather at last, there having been sun, sun, s
un, a lip-cracking and tree-splitting dry, 
since the vernal equinox. Nothing

had been vernal about it, and her land
knew so. The very fir limbs sulked;
willows on creek banks browned up and died;

birds fell everlastingly silent, dropping
on needle-sharp tufts of what had been haymow 
beneath their perches in rattling cedars;

fish sought pools deeper than any there were, 
crowding in together, fin by fin,
gulping and grunting, then rolling over

to bump along hot, slimed rocks and 
lodge somewhere, stinking. Her crops had 
miniaturized, flavorful but insufficient to pay her labor;

She'd lost heart and let vining bindweed 
into her cracked farm at last. And now here comes 
weather. Not enough to top off the well,

maybe, and certainly not enough to start the creek. 
But here she stops, catching chill -- watching
a goldfinch settle on fence wire with a twist

of foraged thistledown. It drops the meal,
opens its beak, cranes skyward. And now it sings.



 36

Terrified of them she was through long 
Experience being swarmed with stings, 
Running, her hands over eyes and mouth, 
Running to the house or jumping in the lake, 
In whatever way possible to stop the punishers. 
For years, she made herself their nemesis
In revenge, setting nests afire! Or in 
Evenings inverting a glass bowl upside 
Down over their holes to watch them starve.

Only in recent years, as her ways have slowed, 
Finding in books their part in the scheme of

Things as helpers in garden and orchard, 
Has she learned to move more gently 
Even as they light on her cidery hands, 
Milking fingers for juice, never stinging.


37

It is quiet out there now. She
Takes her hat, stick and forage bag,

Into which she slips her pruners, then 
Slides her feet into green clogs, feeling

Quite exurban-agrarian, ready to look
Under brush piles and into cottonwoods -- 
In every place that might consent to harbor 
Even a hint of birds' music. They have flown, 
The silence tells her; those that haven't died.

Out along the roadside she waves to cars, 
Understanding her neighbors have to drive, 
Then pockets up her apples, rose hips, leaves

That now are turning away from green: cat's ear, 
High mallow, chicory, plantain, sow thistle, her 
Ears pricked for passing flights of geese.
Really, thinks she to herself, there ought
Even now to be more birds. There are

Not so many feral cats round here as that. 
Or could it be the sprays? She supposes 
War has been declared. A war on song.


38

The ubiquity of Queen-Anne's lace annoys her; 
it's not the plant's not doing its job; her soil
is loosened and enriched; in time of human

hunger, roots, young leaves and even 
umbels would have table use. But there is so much 
of it; her chickens dislike the stuff, especially

in its second year, allowing their yard and moat 
to fill with cohort-ranks of pungent spikes.
Her friend keeps bees and tells her they will feed

on this exclusively, bittering his honey, bringing 
down its price. So he watches; when the 
umbels bloom he moves his hives.

She'd like to query those who thought of Anne; 
these tiny droplets in a sea of lace
Need not have been a queen's: she tells herself

her own blood has fed this thorned and rock- embedded 
acre thoroughly. So, queen
of weeds, she! Or queen of just-enough.


39

She likes red in September: viney maple, poison oak; 
Her plum trees dress well in it. Where she lives, all 
Else goes brown. Except the dog roses

Leavening hedges with their hips. She stuffs these 
In her pockets on every walk, then does research, 
Kindling a ken of potions, liqueurs, oils.
Easily, drying comes to mind; to prep for that 
She'll split each pod and rake away hard seeds,

Removing them to her freezer to stratify; 
Else they might not emerge come spring. She 
Digs out also myriad tiny hairs,

Irritants if retained. It's a slow business,
Not for the impatient, which well describes her;

She know of this but means to tough it out. 
Each hip's a silent mantra: she'll
Push, pull, twist, scrape, sort, and set aside 
The emptied husks for drying or infusing. 
Eventually the pile is done, just as light fades. 
My eyes, she tells herself, are getting on,

But this I can still do. I'll make rose tea; 
Evening will fill my cup of mindfulness.
Really, there's nothing more than what there is.


40

Nothing can stand still. If it were to do so 
absolutely, I could not see it; if I
were to cease scanning, I could not then see;

therefore change is all. These were my thoughts 
as I walked a dog, watching my year run down. 
Apples were falling; I chose one to eat.

Hips blushed fiercely; I stuffed my pockets full. 
Ash and maple and willow turned and turned. 
Restless mice and voles risked their all

for seeds. We reached the river; a trout rose, 
an osprey plunged; they met and flew as one.
An osprey will turn a trout head first in flight,

you know -- for improved aerodynamics. 
I disbelieve it; surely the bird is kind.
It turns the trout to show it what's to come.


41

The first few fires of Autumn laid by me
Here in this stove aren't much; I acknowledge
Even the hummingbird's still caressing blooms, so I

Feeling only a brief dawn chill, build accordingly.
In thickets of summer I range about,
Ratcheting my long-handled pruner among stout sticks, 
Stealing from oak and ash, letting in a little light.
These I pile in the long room where that stove squats.

Fueling it with paper and a stack of twigs, admiring 
Even the least hints of gold and vermillion therein, 
We sit back, warm enough for one dark cup of tea.

For awhile; then day overtakes us, ready
In sweater and chore coat to see to hens;
Really, we shuck those soon enough, sweat on our
Ears and eyelids, summer reborn briefly in our knees. 
So; until the ground grows cold that will hold our graves. 


42

Chiyono married very young. She gave one child, 
then lost her husband, and, as was the custom 
then, she was dispatched to an abbey to begin anew.

Thus vanished, she married wood and water, 
chopping, carrying, blowing through a tube 
to brighten fire beneath the rice and tea,

hoeing radishes, sun and moon her companions. 
Work done, which seemed seldom, she would sit 
as the black-robed women sat, hands folded,

and this attracted kindness from an elderess. 
"What are you doing?" "Gathering Mind," said she, 
"as I have seen them do." "There is no Mind,"

the Old One chided, "that is to say, none
to be grasped, either by sitting or not sitting. 
What's to be done is the same sitting or carrying

wood to the cooks. Do you wish instruction?" 
She did, and studied with this nun for years, 
while not neglecting any menial task.

One night, while making use of moonlight
to bring to the cistern her ancient bucket, full,
she watched in horror as it sprang apart and spilled --

then stood amazed, free. "This," she later
said, "in spite of my ceaseless effort, was
how it was. No bucket. No water. No moon." In

after years she  founded five abbeys, taking in
homeless women, teaching them strength and grace.


 43

The things to do: bring an egg from her
Hens, a found apple, beet leaf, cat's-ear foliage, 
Ensuring freshness even in October.

The skillet she heats, oil frisking.
Here's egg: break yolk, turn once or twice;
Insert chopped fruit and greens, with salt and pepper; 
Now turn again, wait, remove from heat,
Give all to a spelt wrap. As she sits to her meal, a
Sun rises, invests her eastern window, spills in

To caress and warm six thick maple boards
Of her grandmother's table. Whatever remains to be

Done's already forgotten: the meal an emblem 
Of all her morning cared to be.


 44

It's not that she hasn't been doing this all along:
She'd walked to school as yellow lozenges, oozing screams, 
fumed past her along hot asphalt. She'd splashed the creek,

anxious for a path, then built it herself, kenning
to use her father's axe without lost blood.
She'd walked from Springer Mountain north, chatting in

her offhand way with bears, a big cat and a ghost. 
She'd walked the halls of academia and then the hills, 
big ones, bringing seedling trees to snug up to

the raw stumps of firs machines had eaten.
She'd walked to a job for decades, block after block 
of homes with eyes of black glass inching

past her tired, angry shoes. Now, late in life, 
she keeps a small dog bereft by her parents' breathing 
stopped. The dog has taught much:

when to stop and sniff; how to attend with one's whole being 
the business of squirrels. Bound
by the leash, that necessary thing, they two as one

take in, absorb, imbibe, inhale, entaste
all the arriving and leaving of living things.


45

She's not much for recipes. The bowl sometimes 
invites her, and she oils it, cracks a duck egg
or two, throws in a bit of stock or well water,

maple syrup and leavening, and says to it:
sit there and I'll be back with something for you. 
"Something" might be a beet leaf, or an apple,

or a spray of young mint -- once it was a whole 
handful of chives. Chopped and thrown in,
the whatever might vanish under oats or rye,

buckwheat flour, or crumbs from the last loaf, and 
then salt -- late, so as not to insult the yeast. 
Last, she may tug the spelt barrel from beneath

the counter, and dip a porcelain bowl into the cool 
brown powder five -- six -- seven times. She stirs
 the makings between heaps

with a pair of chopsticks. Never quite
the same thing twice! In summer she'll oil a crock 
pot and turn the lump in to bake;

in winter, a Dutch oven. In either case, 
the secret is prop the lid onto a chopstick, 
letting a little steam out over time.

The end is not the prettiest bread you'll ever see, 
nor the best tasting, she'll admit. But 
slice it, add a little butter to it still hot,

and sit, eating slowly, in a western window 
as the sun goes gold, then falls. 
Are you not now the grace at the red heart of the world?


46

Rattling around in her potting shed once
she came across packets five years old;
had not heart to toss the things away.

Popping the lid from an empty parsley shaker,
she tipped the packets' contents in and stirred.
Ten flats she sowed at random with this mix,

come March, that first year; a month earlier 
thereafter, as springs grew warmer. Bits of green appeared, 
some here, more there. She'd prick out any

that went to a second pair of leaves, and give them 
each its own square pot. What might they be? 
Some Red Russian, curly or Lacinato

kale, some radishes, turnips, beets. Six kinds of 
lettuce, collards, cabbage -- Dutch or red -- 
some spinach, also chard. Carrots, kohlrabi

and parsnips never showed, but she allowed 
enough's a feast. Those that proved up
were hardened off in April, then set out

in beds on a grid, each as its turn came next 
from the flat. That shaker lasted half a garden 
half a decade. Nothing the catalogs

had taught was even tried. Whatever she thought
they'd said to do with seeds, well! The seeds
knew more than seedsmen, and much, much more than she.


47

In August, but this year in July, Gravensteins: 
golden fleshed, generous, kind to cook, ciderer 
and ring-dryer. She tries everything,

but mostly buttering: a large crockpotful
of peeled rings, quartered, lightly cloved, c
innamoned and nutmegged will make

six pints and one short jelly jar. After
that, the old Egremont Russet, Cortland, 
Honeycrisp and Jonagold come all together;

what can she do but slice them all in quarters, 
toss them into her dedicated shredder,
pour pomace into a burlap bag

and hang that, with her father's pulley and 
an old hemp rope, to a maple branch? 
Juice will run for hours, collecting

in a tub beneath; at evening she dips gold, 
pouring through filter and funnel into quarts -- 
forty-five glass jars or more, most years.

Last, she'll think of cider (but not too much), 
making in a cool jug by adding wine yeast.
In seven days or less she will sing to trees.


48

There are rooms in a life that may sometimes 
Have someone in them; but they are guests there. 
Even when one most loves, one may find,
Really, a solitude that begins at this wall,
Ends at that wall; the rest is not entirely ours.

As years turn and suns, moons and stars 
Rise up and fall like rain by every window 
Even one's hands will shrivel soon enough

Right at the ends of one's arms, as hands
Of strangers. But to fret at this discovery
Of emptiness arrived at and emptiness
Made clear by moon's dance with water,
Sun's dance with dust, by endings never sought

In even that one room that is one's own, is 
Not worthy of even that we call our life.

All our guests deserve from us restraint.

Little enough we can offer them as it is; 
In a short while each vacates each room, 
Feeling for the light switch as each goes. 
Evening comes. Do not grieve the door.


49

Padding along among roots and stobs in shade, 
I take the north-slope path to see old friends: 
red huckleberry and mountain hemlock

subsisting on nurse logs amid moss; vanilla leaf, 
false Solomon's seal, sword fern, bracken, 
sorrel, twinflower, wild ginger, salmonberry,

maiden-hair fern, ninebark, viney maple. 
They seem well; it's steep shade and deep mouldering 
duff. Enough rain has alighted

upon this slope for centuries to build tall firs, 
straight cedars, twisted, hoary, wrangling maples. 
Yet the riverbed below seems troubled, shrunken.

Stones I never see have suddenly shown themselves, 
shouldering past dried caddis cases and 
empty snail shells, standing in desiccated air.

Here no trout hide from tiring current, awaiting 
mayflies. No osprey hovers above, awaiting trout. 
The river has shifted from

its bed, lifted past every thirst, and gone 
to fall somewhere in the world as flood.
A slug has blundered into dust in broiling

sun and is in trouble. Not one for caressing slugs, 
I break two twigs for chopsticks, and move the mollusk 
to, I hope, a better place.

In fellow feeling I expound to the slug
my sunstruck orchard, panting flock, failing well 
and kitchen garden hard as ice.

We'll all of us start shifting soon, I tell it,
as ants shift from a burning glass. From here on you and I 
will need what's more than luck.


50

Just about her favorite thing is to
Unseal bright papery packets and
Set out flats of germination soil
The length of her bench, then scratch in parallel

Along each flat, with a stick, five lines for seeds.
By and by, the covered infant sprouts appear;
Or don't, in which case repeat until satisfactory.
Under her grow lights, not great ones, but good enough, 
The seedlings make two leaves and then two more:

Here she makes more flats, with this time in 
Each flat eighteen pots, filled with dampened 
Rooting soil. A hole in each pot waits

For one tiny plant; the soil to be pressed 
Around the taproot and tiny rootlets, then 
Very gently watered -- from below, pouring 
Over the flat's lip a tea of comfrey.
Really she overdoes it, making hundreds,
In every kind, of vegetable starts, far more
Than she can plant, but is fine with that; most 
Everyone she knows will willingly give them homes.

That's her means, in old age, of making 
Happen a kind of revolution. There are
In towers far away, those who would
Not have us eat what will not make them rich. 
Go, little plants! Feed free souls free food.


51

The rhythm of the work is to set down
Her padded bench, a flat, and trowel at the 
End of a bed and drop as if in prayer,

Reach for the trowel (bent for her old
Hand at right angles), dig, then grope for a pot. 
You may see each hole is deep and wide enough 
To exactly take the root ball. She carefully 
Holds this in her shade, tips the damp
Mass in, packs with trowel, repeats all -- three

Or four times -- then stands. Behind her, some 
Four plants glow green in any six feet of bed.

The rhythm of this work, when best, resembles 
How monks or nuns in supplication glide 
Easily to the floor, centered, unconcerned

With body or mind, then rise, then glide again, 
Outcomes not sought, nor merit earned.
Right to the end of the bed she goes,
Kneeling to simply do with her rough hands.


52 

What to do about trees, for she had room: 
Have an orchard. But isn't that thinking 
About twenty years ahead? So she went
To the tool room for her spade in November;

Took that and four apple saplings down
Onto the flat by the road, and began. Years she

Did this, working up and around the rise 
Of better ground. Pears, cherries, quince

Abounded, but the plums got blight, and had to 
Be started over. She was too old to harvest
Or even get shade from nut trees, they're so slow; 
Uncoupling crop from objective, she anyway set 
Them out, along with the rest. Last, she

Thought of mulberries. The hens could have 
Really used those. Oh, well. She ordered, 
Even this late in life, and planted once more, 
Even as those old hens looked on amazed: 
Something to offer folks not yet alive.


53

What to do with leaves, if one cannot leave them 
Here beneath aspen, gum, maple and birch
As what they become in winter, a kind of skirt 
To warm and feed fanned roots, is gather and

Toss them on a garden. She spreads hers 
Over bed and path alike, with straw, with

Dead grass and weeds, barn bedding, the contents 
Of kitchen bucket and tumble barrel, along

With any foliage that comes to hand, even prunings 
If too small to bother with for her iron stove.
This is for worms and all their small companions 
Heaving aside the earth of path and bed alike,

Leveling and loosening, making untilled tilth. 
Evening comes and she stills, listening
As the city of humus thrums toward spring. 
Very likely it's best to interfere not
Even this much in things, she tells herself, yet 
She's always loved to tell her children: eat.


54

Beets are a thing, she mused; all summer 
Every seed she'd planted out refused 
Every opportunity to sprout, but
Those in flats thrived, just as those 
Seedsmen told her they would not.

As for after they were transplanted, well!
Rare was the beet that was not found by gophers. 
Even so, some were left not quite finished

As the gophers waddled away, and

Those she was grateful for. She brought in
Her greens; made wilted salad; then
In winter came across again the muddy half-moons. 
Nothing is better than gifted beetroot steamed, 
Gopher bitten, she told herself, or otherwise.


55

All that is left is the Granny Smiths; she 
Loves that they cling to their shivered tree, 
Leaves long gone. Even the hens have left off

Trusting the sky to toss them sugar, and 
Have retired to their tractor, pecking
At storebought feed in its styrene bin. 
The winds whistle through, rasping

Ink-black twigs together; the apples nod and 
Stub their green bellies. She

Lifts ten or so down, as if they were 
Each one of her own breasts, tenderly 
Filling her small basket. In the kitchen 
They will sit shyly waiting their turn:

It is the season for other foods; in 
Stoneware bowls, nuts and citrus

Talk among themselves in distant tongues. 
Here her hands make outland meals,
Even finding work for lemon skins.

Granny Smiths are not much favored, 
Really, by her guests; in festive mood, if an 
Apple is desired, they'll reach for waxed, 
Not thinking of that one tree, struggling 
Night and day to keep for them fresh joy. 
Yet she knows she cannot blame them;

Shy apples do their best in pie.
Moonlight limns the fruit she did not pick;
If some green globes remain at large tonight, 
The morning light will prove, tomorrow, 
Holiday for those that cannot buy.
Squirrels and towhees will know what to do.


56

Weather is a thing, now, she tells herself, 
Every day surprising -- week, month 
And season. When, whether and what 
To plant, or how to schedule visits with 
Her friends or family, across a pass or 
Even in lowlands. Storm clouds will
Roll in, blizzards, fire, a tornado. She

Is sure there's easy weather somewhere 
Such times as freezing fog, wind, or

A heatwave shuts her in. She'll admit

There are good days for her yet
Here beneath her patient apple trees. 
If weather is a thing, so is simplicity. 
Never waste a calm day, she says:
Go see trilliums, bespeak beargrass,

Nod to daisies, curtsy to wise willows.
On such days, forget falling trees and hills, 
Water rising. Love life while you can.


57

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.


58

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? S
he 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.


59

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 tisane, made with fire.


60

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.


61

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.


62

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.


63

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.


64

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.


65

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.


66

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.


67

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.


68

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.


69

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.


70

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.


71

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.


72

Oho! Cartilage has vanished from between
long leg bones, and I have at last become
dependent; may I have some help please
with these pants, these socks, this clacking

knee brace, this burgeoning heaped skunkish
laundry full of everything that leapt from
the spoon onto my clothing, this tea welling up
somehow from my cup's brim to spread across

the tidal flat of my shaking hand and fill
the sea cave of my sleeve? Ah, and if
last night's frost has subsided enough,
perhaps even with such a day's beginning

I can hope to step into these two unmatched
clogs and shamble on, past undone chores,
gathering up my left-hand stick and my right-
hand stick, and walk the dog. There is no dog;

what he left behind lies there: that small
basaltic stupa, littered with seasonal
offerings -- lately, deadnettles that wilt
in such hurry. But I call to him anyway;

he loved these walks so, that I feel obliged,
knee brace and all, to retrace our kinhin route
each weekday Armageddon fails to materialize.
Oaks throw shade; in summer I seek them,

in winter avoid. This is a ritual. As when I sit,
as when I chant, I know, even when tongue tied,
or falling asleep, or feeling my knee brace loosen and drop
just as I stagger into the ditch to avoid a truck,

that ritual is a kind of living being, made up of
my life and also the lives of all who participate
in some way, such as: "are you going to 'walk
the dog?'" Yes. "Have you got some water and

your phone?" Yes. "Okay; if you're not back
in an hour, I'll come looking for you." I bobbled
the Heart Sutra this morning, as I always do,
but this little exchange of hearts is itself

the Middle Way. Along the road, taking tiny
steps, tinier every year, I stop
to watch a robin angling for its worm.
The little dog that isn't there

wags his universe of tail.