The sun withdraws its tide of liquid gold
along the goldenrod, the sumac fronds
by now November red (think blood, weeks old)
and up the sharp-as-switches willow wands.
Against the Appalachian dusk the gnats
are lit like photon swarms above the ponds.
My father parts the weeds to squint at slats
in leaves — the fence, perhaps? The trellis for the rose?
He flinches, glances up at early bats
who skim the photon eddies; how well he knows
the speed of dark between these hills, how well…
his mother made that trellis for her wedding rose.
How well she trained her climbing rose to smell
the bedroom up when August winds undress
long linen curtains. Her trellis finally fell,
between the sucking humus and the seasons’ press
which squeezes dwellings like a caliper
for rot. Her room? A patch of wintercress.
Her house grew down, it shapes a catacomb
for moonseed, ampelopsis, possum-grape:
such guileless vines, who tried to stay at home
for years but since their sad escape
push feelers through the hardwood boards,
beyond the handmade joints, into the crawlspace.
A hundred paces past the lost backdoor
my feet sink deep but never touch the earth
in honeysuckle thicker than I’ve seen before;
we search and find the cellar where she turned
the labels front and pulled old jellies out
before my birth, before my father’s birth.
Step slowly, dad, because the night’s knee deep
along these heirloom paths the rabbits keep.
Your mother, you remember her and sigh
and kick the leaves for having died, but I
was five that night and so can just recall
the lights, her open coffin in the whispering hall,
the chocolate fudge, that bruise above her eye.
I’ve tried it, too, that tired lament at time:
“This glade, where sprang the laughter of the bride
and groom, the clang of supper bells, the chime
of whippoorwills — how it’s become a meal
for fetid, silent moulds, a chamber-pot
for any vagrant bird.” I’ve made appeal
to God-who-makes-things-right, that He would not
forget forgotten artifacts of care.
But this is magic, and not prayer.
Not time, not God — whoever rues the weeds
would be the missing gardener. The missing seeds?
The skill she gave your hands that certain day
she trained the rose in May, that certain way
she turned her blade along the canes: from knife
to every tool, to every act, to life.
Without such times her life won’t stay.
Without such lines your face just fades.
You are tradition. But all memory dies
the way the valley yellows and the milkweed flies.
So don’t begin to sorrow and to say:
“who’ll bring her down, who’ll bring her back again?”
She is tradition, she is in your hand.
So give me what she gave you on a certain day.
Or sing me songs she heard at dark
when crickets in the creekbed start;
I hear them tick rabbinic lists till dawn
demands they rest. Remembering on and on
their numbers drum a drone in time, but flat:
“So let us not forget, begat, begat,
and let us not forget, begat, begat,
begat, begat.” And missing none.
Are they good sons?
Please give me what you made from her a certain day;
I give you what I made from you – – just let me say,
again, my “…moonseed, ampelopsis, possum-grape…” – –
Oh, listen, dad! The plants have names as bright
as any bloom, as hatched as cones, as slight
as clover or as dank as loam. You grew in me
such playing in the sounds of things when we
explored old woods, when you’d recite the name
of some twined vine and I’d repeat the same
like fun, sly rhyme. So see how I have played
among your curling sounds and I have made
a thing. I made a thing. I loved our game.
The sun has found the hill and you are old.
Let’s start again; just show me how you hold
your knife, just so; then long beyond your night
of whispers in the hall, and fudge, and light
(no bruise above your placid eye) I’ll see
your youth in my lithe hand. You’ll be
the way I turn the blade, how hard I hone,
that certain circle I describe on stone.
I’ll not remember you,
I’ll not need to.