[This is the eighth part of a yearlong poem about moving from the city to the country. Inspired by ancient and medieval calendar poems, it appears here as I write it, in monthly installments. First read the prologue and then September, October, November, December, January, and February. To read later entries in this series after they’re posted, click the “Beallsville Calendar” subject tag.]
THE BEALLSVILLE CALENDAR
Wake early; fill the feeders with seed
And sweep away the swollen remnants
Of busted mice. In barns and garages,
With the sickly rumble of a rusting key
In a seized ignition, the seventh month turns.
As spiders creep from the crags and fractures
That kept the runoff from wrecking their gears,
Shuddering trucks and tractors emerge
In the blur before dawn. The dingy glare
Of their headlamps rises over hillside fallows
And fills the stars with the Farmer’s Sons.
Their hands have yet to be hardened by summer
And their eyes are bright. In an hour of prudence,
They seed the sky with skittering beams.
Wake early to learn what their labors have made.
If you look, you can sense when a late snowfall
Will send the moths that suckle at floodlights
Back to the shadows. Bristling finches
Too harried to mete out harmonious verse
Flap to our awnings, flooding their gullets
With suet and seed. They see past the treetops
And over the daffodils, open and bright,
That rise on the edge of the road through the woods;
Beyond the monsters that yelp in their hollows
Or hoot from their crannies or cluck in their roosts;
Higher than chimes from the churchyard garden
That blow through the fields on a blustery night―
I’ll see for myself. Like a sixth-grade gallant
Who whets his hero in a haven of orcs,
Hacking and slashing, I hew the limbs
From saplings; they crumple in soundless defeat.
With a mattock and clippers, I clear a channel
Through a lake of leaves, and I lop the chaos
From looming boughs. Though litter and twigs
The wisp of a pathway points to a clearing
That swells from a stream to a strand of grass
Where the fertile tide of the forest recedes.
In the midst of these exploits, I meet myself loping
The opposite way. “The work is noble,”
I laugh at my wheezing, “but leave some steam
For a wary walk back. We both should be patient
And wait to make claims on the worth of the trail
Until blazing the way in both directions.”
For now, we go forward. We nail up meshwork
Filled with mealworms to flatter bluebirds
And tempt them home. We hang an orange
And strips of twine, if stray orioles
Should drop from the morning, dizzy and singed.
We sing of strength to a struggling lilac,
Frail and slumping, as we fondly consign
A blessed fish to its famished roots.
Like a limping exile with an ancient cup
In a bundle of rags on a battle-cragged tor,
I plunge dry sticks into stony clods
And pray for berries to bloody their thorns.
Then I hate how I’m getting ahead of myself:
Nothing but radishes rise in the weed-beds
That buttress our home; they break up the soil,
The humblest of callings, and hasten the rest.
In the cool of the morning, a creature of twilight
Struts through the bramble, strawberry gold
And vast with purpose, a vision of judgment
To the quaking souls of songbirds and mice
But auspicious to us, like an angel ablaze
With inscrutable news. Nosing the furrows,
It finds no prey in our pitiful sprouts,
But its tail flares up, like a torch at the vigil,
And in a glimmer the fur and the fire are one:
We walk in darkness from a whistling pyre
On the graveyard’s edge to the open door
Of a wayside church, our chanting scattered
In the passionless wind, but our wants converging
With the eager peeping from pastures and creeks,
More pleas for mercy than the measureless lauds
Of souls that wake early, as silence is conquered,
And all things rise in an endless note.