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.

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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.

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.

Wikham Park

There are so many moments
where I’ve reached for my camera
to capture in a photo the million ways
that reality flowers in your presence:
what the photographer Cartier-Bresson would call
“the decisive moment” —

Like that day in Wikham Park, standing in the sunlight,
your eyes like two small paintings,
the simple colors of your black coat
on the green grass, the white tail of your dog
wagging like mad,
and the contrast of your dark hair
against your pale cheeks,
delicate as dandelion seeds blown in a breeze.

But today, staring out the window
at the taxis going down the avenue,
I realize there is so much life in you
it’s impossible to capture. I’ve quit trying.
Maybe life is not meant to be trapped
like some exotic bird.

Instead, my mind returns to the grassy hill,
when I stood with my hands in my pockets,
leaning into the bit of warmth
left in the cold light,
and I watched you chasing Layla,
your laugh hanging like a string of bulbs in the air,
and I watched the little girl in you come out
and wrap her arms around the world.

And I thought how like a sunset it was:
there forever and gone
at the same time.

Highway in Autumn

When it came it came suddenly, and short—
something lonesome and deep,
calling to him from deep in his heart,
something involving highways and a few autumn leaves.

He wanted to transport to those places of distance.
Wine gave the illusion of that.
Rain on a windowsill did, too.
But always he woke on the same couch wearing the same shoes.

If only he could stay there, outside the window,
chilly autumn clouds, walking that highway with his arms
wrapped in self-embrace, a few notes of music lilting in the air,
coming from somewhere—