I heard the apples softly letting go
at summer’s end, and knew abundance drowsed
beside me in the field, her freckled arm
flung wide above her headscarf, while a dream
of cider filled the Nonesuch cheeks with rust.
They tumbled from her apron, fully grown.
A sparrow, mating with its echo, bred
a fledgling music. I was no one’s bride.
Who knows why summer broke my heart that year?
September always said too ripe, too ripe.
In Hubbardston, the world was threshing gold,
my brother’s acres far too light-beguiled
for herds or harvesters. And who could reap
the hillsides, flecked with such excelsior?
Oh Lord, I couldn’t pray, as language asks.
I was too small, and autumn’s only husk.
And when some worm deranged itself in me,
I thought I couldn’t live to watch the light
inevitably yield. A thread, a hair
was all that held me to the earth that hour—
invisibly plucked from her golden head, she laid
redemption in my hands. A scythe might mow
the meadow now. I saw that both my life
and death would matter less than any leaf.
I sat alone, an anvil’s shadow, as
five workmen pounded on my brother’s house.
Their awkward, fitful battering on brick,
on granite, pinned me to the apple bark,
their hammers thundered wood the way a horse’s
fired hooves bombard its stable doors.
I heard in their harangue of wrists a flash
of judgment, and their gavels nailed my flesh.
A pause. Then on the scaffolding I felt,
like rowers straining toward some far-off shore,
their purpose forge a single instrument,
I heard one hammer’s rhythm, adamant
with joy—it found the root of work in sheer
exertion, making, as the rafters filled
with iron on the clapboards’ stave, both song
and signature where men have moved as one.
And as they beat in harmony, I thought
a cloud of sawdust half-eclipsed the sun.
The hammers slowed to match my heartbeat while
their shapes upon the ridgepole dimmed. And veiled
by cooler, unfamiliar light, with sand
the mind can worry pearlward in my throat,
their restoration stood for all we make
in life and all that perishes like smoke.