Galileo & Eggs (#40)

Sorting eggs with my son,
Listening to a twenty eight minute
Biography of Galileo Galilei,
Who raked the ashes of Aristotle

Over the coals of Ptolemy until
The Catholic church couldn’t help
But notice. A freckled egg,
Cupped in my palm, curving

Inward, sac, albumen, yolk,
Scintilla speck of embryo,
Brain, blood, programatic,
Geometric physics of biology—

Galileo, however, looking outward,
Told the priests, the inquisitors,
“You’re right. This is all just
My opinion. Can I go home now?”

Meanwhile, as he spoke,
His manuscript, banned in Rome,
Was being smuggled off to
Amsterdam for publication.

Back in Virginia, I teach my boy
To pack the eggs into dozens,
A legacy of Roman lucre,
When perhaps ten would make

More sense. Later, staring skyward,
A dozen stars. A thousand!
Jesus, Galileo. I just want to hear
That song by the Indigo Girls.

October Light (#39)

Where I backed the silver trailer
In the autumn rain, pressing close
To oak boards once painted black,
The wooly longhorn turns his head

To enter the vacant space,
Stepping into cool darkness.
Nearby, buttressed with stilt grass,
Panicles of pink knotweed,

The tomb of the ground spider,
Diurnal shroud decorated with fallen
Sugarnut leaves, funneling light.
The rain taps the pale gauze, and,

Deep within the coiled cold
The hungry mouth moves, twitching—
If it had a slavering tongue, surely
It would lick its dripping, ebony fangs.

Cider Apples (#38)

After my dad died, and life
Slowly resumed its seasons,
My sixty year old cousin George
Called, asking for apples.

This was no ordinary request.
My father and I had, for a decade,
Picked apples together each fall,
Which he subsequently delivered,

Driving four tortuous hours
To our tiny Appalachian homestead,
A fundraiser donation for the clapboard
Church, each year whitewashed

Postcard perfect. Here, amongst
Quilts and pies and jams and pumpkins,
Twenty four bushels of our orchard’s
Apples were auctioned each year,

Jonathans and Winesaps, Yorks,
Staymans, Grimes Golden,
And Northwest Greenings.
Some of each, something for all,

Always the finest we had,
Unsprayed, dimpled with dents,
Profoundly imperfect compared
To anything at the grocery store,

Those waxed, chemical cousins.
I cherished them above all fruits,
Crisply tart and sun-warmed,
Small, but golden-sweet,

And so, when George called,
I answered. I knew what to do.
I intuited. I fetched and cleaned
The crates, sweeping away

Cobwebs, caterpillar carapaces,
Forking a ladder between limbs
And picking, six, seven hours,
Stretching, tiptoed, for the farthest

Fruit, cupping each to hand,
Cradling it against bruising,
Bypassing nine of ten apples
As too small, too blemished,

Circumspect in curation,
Until slowly, slowly,
Two dozen boxes brimmed.
The next morning, I drove

My father’s backroads, meeting George
Halfway in Monterey, Virginia,
The last place to compromise
Before the mountains thickened.

His expression, upon seeing the fruit,
Was that of a child receiving a
Birthday card from a rich relative,
And discovering a dollar bill inside.

“What…” he began, trying hard
To stay composed, struggling
With language, taking
Three tries to form the words,

“What… What are these?”
And because it hadn’t fully
Sunk in yet, because at
Almost thirty years old I remained

Dutiful, obeisant, willing,
I assumed there must be
A misunderstanding, and
Fumbled for some fresh beginning.

“They’re your apples,”
I said, knowing at once
I spoke dumbly, plainly, and only
To the vacant air of the

Empty grocery parking lot
Where we had met,
Nonsense words echoing
Against the curvature of sky,

And at this he gathered himself
Tall, reining his disappointment,
Nodding at the diminutive, freckled fruit.
“Oh sure,” he said, clearing his throat.

“They’ll make good cider apples.”
And as though this wasn’t enough,
As though I hadn’t already withered
On the spot, he added,

“But no one would pay for them.”
And as we transferred them to
His truck, each of us silent,
Melancholy, I clearly understood that,

Not yet half his age, I was already
Warped by time, wobbled,
Living some false pretense
Where people ate imperfect apples,

A dimension where I was
A ghost casting cores,
Unnamed saplings springing
From stoney, moonlit orchards,

Dark fruit starring the heavens.
And it wasn’t until
Six months later that I learned,
For all those years, my father

Had been discarding our apples
For deer bait, and purchasing, instead,
Pristine bushels from Washington state,
Passing them off as our own,

The coveted annual entry
Of the local church fundraiser.
That was the first and last time
My cousin ever called me.

Such suffering,
Such knowledge!
Just watch. Willingly, willfully,
We die again, and again.

Lone Elm (#36)

I asked an old friend to
Help me identify a tree
I had never seen before,
And I think we were both

Surprised when she said
—Hesitatingly at first, then
With cautious wonder—
“I… I want to say it’s an elm,”

Both of us knowing it
Defied logic, odds,
Aware of how the disease
Had arrived long ago, killing

Ninety nine thousand
Nine hundred and ninety nine
Elms for every one remaining,
As here, rooted, solitary. Alive.

Who knows how?
How we stay friends,
I mean, knowing what
We think we know,

That life goes on,
So busy, so bothered, so
When the phone rings,
And the voice, carefully

Composed, bridging
Distance, decades,
Cracks—In a single syllable,
Our world falls, fathomless,

While the lucky elm, miraculous,
Feels the sun on its leaves,
The rain on its roots, and,
Missing no one, misses nothing.