The Temptation Of Seed
At 86, Blanche nourishes The frail ghosts of attractiveness The urge toward a wry humor Given way to a process of mumbled Bemusement. Smoothing her hair She tells us Sterry is weeding potatoes. “You have the seed it’s tempting You want to plant it but the work The weeds and wasps, it never stops. Weren’t going to do it again. So tiring. I was asleep.” Sterry enters sagging over Like a barn door missing two latches Arthritis and shingles bent What two wars and eighty years Of working mornings couldn’t. There’s no answer for the body’s Betrayal but a fumbled adjustment, Resentment’s a luxury. He squints through thick glasses Moving them across his eyes Like a man panning for gold As though one spot among those scars Still saw as young soldier Paris- Bound or middle-aged farmer Mopping away sweat saw. We sit talking, the scene bending Into parody beyond our will. Blanche comes in and out of knowing Who we are or what year it is, Her gentleness lost somewhere, Saying over and over how hard it is To get things done, how many Naps it takes to be alive. A picture taken forty years ago Seems almost mocking now, a portrait Of grazing horses in alpine silence Verges on seeming cruel in contrast To these human pastures of fuel bills Rising like a flood and teenage Vandals from a small town over the hill. “On Jones’ car we used to ride to Town in they loosened the lugnuts So the wheels fell off. Could of killed us. Beat up old Homer Jordan When he caught ’em Stealing frozen fish from his Fridgidaire.” The upstairs portion of the house’s Boarded off like the border of some unfriendly Nation. It costs too much in energy To climb the stairs or in fuel to heat. I think, as the strained conversation Drones, how the mind’s like that, We’re always walling up or damming out Parcels of it that cost Too much to travel in. Behind glass doors The front room’s a museum now Things set carefully Here and there, not related to for years. “We don’t use it now. Folks come To the back door. Such as come,” Blanche explains as I peer inside. There’s a time when you have to leave Knowing you said little to give comfort. Feeling an isolation grow as you try Squeezing something human into A smile as you shake two hands, lingering Before a closing door.
This old house off the road, aged A milk white & peeling like shingled Skin, this mapled driveway lost In autumnal filters. The round strength Of upstate hills gathers straws Of darkness, clay-stained leaves Running wild in the antlered sun. A strong man. Good as any ever walked A pair of shoes. But now, with his wife Living in town nursing a broken ankle, The TV glows, a blue parody of the burning Bush, as we approach the door. The homogenized babble of talking heads Looms incongruous here in Rockwell Country: any voice to fill The twilight now, any mode of sleep. Measured in the silence his wife’s voice Disappeared into like rain into snow, Or how large the faded kitchen seems, Bottles of Percodan on the shelves, The trickling stream behind the shed Dammed into pond by a bumbling neighbor. We talk of the madness of California weather. “All the same, son, day after day. No seasons. Like a neon tube. Must confuse the animals. With animals you need seasons. Rain and snow. The exact gold of October. There’s a time to rest the mare, And a time to foal. The same with sheep, and cows.” The only thing he regrets, says Uncle Sterry, Was giving up his car because of cataracts. That, and letting his delicate wife Blanche sleep alone by the dining room Heater the night she rose from troubled Sleep and stepped through a glass door Toward the warmth of relatives in town. As evening wears on Uncle Sterry reveals The ghosts and skeletons of apple Butter country. The irishman crazy on whiskey Who bludgeoned two boys And a wife, burying them beneath A flat rock in a field of stubble corn. “Or you take the Miller’s now, Stu & Aurelia. He had that slight hunch back, you know. Hadn’t oughta had no children, them two. Had six kids, don’t you know. Three was normal. Three was dwarves. Hadn’t oughta had no children.” The time to depart grows like a shadow. We say goodbye to Uncle Sterry, Shaking those burled hands that once stacked Bales of hay so effortlessly. I don’t even Know what I felt, driving back, light Beams cutting the air like molten snow; A loss, not sorrow exactly, But cheated, and a fear.