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.

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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—
out!

  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.

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.

Primitive Rain

I wonder what primitive man felt
the first time it rained.
A blue sky turned grey, bruised
and cracked open like a new mind,
a new consciousness of the universe
expressing itself in lush abandon,
with torn shards of cloud, blackened and jagged.
And now this wetness, a spackled blanket of liquid —
how strange, how exhilarating!

There must have been a first rain,
after man became conscious of himself:
for it had kissed his face, he’d felt it —
it was for him, for him!
Perhaps he would recognize it
in a moment of stunning awareness:
the ancient understanding of nature
having the same body as man.
For how could the rumble above be anything
other than the beating of his heart?
How could the rain, a broken-beaded necklace
of delicate drops, driven down from heaven,
be anything else, if not the tears
falling down his face?