Masker’s Orchard, October

Fresh from rain, the orchard sags, wet.
Branches drop drips in the grass.
Apples dimple the ground, some too soft, rotted,
my thumb puncturing its skin,
some glistening a perfect red.
We plod along together, unsure of a direction,
embarrassed at Nature’s unabashed display,
her fruit laying about like a woman’s undergarments
on her bedroom floor.
The wetness climbs our shoes, darkens the hems of our jeans.
Somewhere children shout, run. Slowly our bags fill.
I wrap an arm around her for warmth.
She crunches into red flesh, exposing a pocket of white cotton,
comments on the balance of sweet and tart.
We crest a hill. I’m still lost, this many years into my life.
The sky gently pulls grey clouds away from itself.
My mother, pulling blue blankets up to my chin.
The tucking under the chin. The kiss.
The hand disappearing into blackness.


Donut Dollies (by Yusef Komunyakaa)

The three stood outside TOC
smiling, waiting with donuts & coffee
for the dusty-green platoon
back from a fire fight,
as the midday sun
fell through their sky-
blue dresses with Red Cross
insignias over their breasts,
like half-hearted cheerleaders.
But the GIs filed past them
with night-long tracer glare
still in their eyes
& the names of dead men
caught in their throats.
Across the hills a recoilless rifle
& mortar spoke to each other.
They followed a thousand-yard stare
until they walked out of boots and fatigues
& fled into the metal stalls
to shower off the night.
For days the donut dollies
were unable to stop shaking
their heads, like a ripple
trembling through horses.
Even back at the Officers’ Club
they couldn’t pull their eyes away
from the line of infantrymen
dragging their tired feet,
molded into a slow melody
inside bowed heads. They
were unable to feel the hands
slip under their uniforms & touch
money belts next to their pale skin.

Och’s Orchard

After a run by the reservoir they changed clothes in the car and drove west on Interstate 80 to the orchard, the sweet smell of apples in the air, an abundance of apples everywhere, like plump rubies in the grass. They dropped into the dips of the hills and knolls, down dirt paths and around trees, lifting branches and leaves, picking Winesaps, Jersey Macintoshes, Cortlands, Jonagolds, Crispins, Macouns. The bags grew heavy and he slowed, drifting behind her, watching as she became a part of the landscape, her plaid flannel shirt and bright blue jeans, her braided hair, her smile as she looked back over her shoulder at no one else but him.

Later they drove through the softly falling dusk into the blue fields of a drive-in theater. The big screen tarnished and looming against the sky. Rows of cars nestled in like spoons. The sounds from the film echoing out of open doors, open trunks, out into the night and upward against the autumn stars. Two canvas bags sat in the backseat, packed with the apples they’d plucked, ripe and ready for eating. They moved to the grass, laying down their coats, and lay there on their stomachs, each with an arm wrapped around the other, like childhood friends. He knew then that this was how love happened, through the basic rituals of his kind; that it was as much a decision as any work of fate, a surrender of that familiar resistance. That he’d been saying yes yes yes all day in his heart.

Ode to Dreams

In one I was lost inside a creamery,
Milkjars in wooden cases surrounding me.
Another involved a sailboat within a flotilla,
On which stood my mother, wearing a blue apron.

In you I am unable to move, holding
Pebbles in my palms as if they were children.
Or a lion softly falls asleep on my back
With its claws clutched around my chest.

You are quiet, elusive, rawboned.
You ask for nothing in return.
Our friendship is a strange one:
Permanent yet unsatisfactory.

We do not hold hands walking to the train,
Or listen as the moon sings its white song.
Instead, you give me sensual mystery:
Like the girl with cerulean eyes, who ran

Laughing as I chased her across the sand.
I woke with the image of her chestnut hair,
And carried it everywhere with me
For the rest of that day.

St. Peter and the Angel (by Denise Levertov)

Delivered out of raw continual pain,
smell of darkness, groans of those others
to whom he was chained—

unchained, and led
past the sleepers,
door after door silently opening—

  And along a long street’s
majestic emptiness under the moon:

one hand on the angel’s shoulder, one
feeling the air before him,
eyes open but fixed . . .

And not till he saw the angel had left him,
alone and free to resume
the ecstatic, dangerous, wearisome roads of
what he had still to do,
not till then did he recognize
this was no dream. More frightening
than arrest, than being chained to his warders:
he could hear his own footsteps suddenly.
Had the angel’s feet
made any sound? He could not recall.
No one had missed him, no one was in pursuit.
He himself must be
the key, now, to the next door,
the next terrors of freedom and joy.

Small Wire (by Anne Sexton)

My faith
is a great weight
hung on a small wire,
as doth the spider
hang her baby on a thin web,
as doth the vine,
twiggy and wooden,
hold up grapes
like eyeballs,
as many angels
dance on the head of a pin.

God does not need
too much wire to keep Him there,
just a thin vein,
with blood pushing back and forth in it,
and some love.
As it has been said:
Love and a cough
cannot be concealed.
Even a small cough.
Even a small love.
So if you have only a thin wire,
God does not mind.
He will enter your hands
as easily as ten cents used to
bring forth a Coke.

Paul Short Invitational: Bethlehem, PA

It was a cross-country race in October,
too warm and humid, a few runners collapsed
on the side of the course like shot horses,
bleeding and humble, feeling the little death
rolling around their guts, as the rest of us charged
past like a herd of stallions, dream-like, holding on,
holding to each other without touching,
the heat packed in our throats, our feet
dragging sprays of dirt across the land,
between corn fields and rolling hills
lifting and dropping us like waves in the ocean.

In the sixth kilometer a stranger sidled up beside me
our strides finding a common rhythm,
and we ran as a pair, no longer strangers,
the grunt and gasp for air our only utterance,
galloping into the relief of shaded woods,
into the shadows cut out in front of us, into time
as time shaped itself around us and inside us,
and the mind gave way to the unexpected voice of the body,
the animal within us learning to speak without speaking —
and then he was gone.

It was later that day, driving home, when I realized
it must be this way that animals whisper to each other,
every drove and pack, flock and yoke,
ambling across the lush earth,
chasing the last light of the sun,
driven by a hunger grown horrible inside,
whispering without the debilitating maelstrom of words,
without past or future,
only sweat and flesh, the heart beating wildly,
alive and eternal.