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.”
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 Frigidaire.”
The upstairs portion of the house’s
Boarded off like the border of some unfriendly
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
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
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.