[This is the eleventh 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, February, March, April, and May. To read later entries in this series after they’re posted, click the “Beallsville Calendar” subject tag.]
THE BEALLSVILLE CALENDAR
The year amasses its measureless weight.
With a turn of the heavens, a tilting world
Sends us chasing the mean: chairs and tables
Slide across the floor, and framed paintings
Fall away from the walls. We wait for rest.
As a summer-blown tractor on the sidelong edge
Of a grassy slope slows to a rumble,
Raring to topple, when its teetering rider
Questions his wisdom but coolly steers
Into the incline, toward the even plain,
A whim in the stars leaves us steady and poised.
The Raven with Scales roosts in the treetops
To croak forth the turn of the tenth-most month.
When brilliance and nothingness neatly align
In fleeting balance, he brazenly shakes them:
They swing from his beak on bronze-white chains
Whose plates overflow with fruits and seeds
And nuts he plucked from the purple night.
Then he lifts off, cackling, and lets it all spill.
Far below him, the falling remnant
Is reason for joy: a ring of squirrels
Darts from the vapor of dimmer stars
And bows to their lord. Bobbing in circles,
They hunger for crumbs from higher realms
Past the baffle of heaven, though the briefest glimpse
Would seize up the wheels in their whirligig hearts.
How strange not to mention the moons until now:
The three closest ones clear and cheerful,
The fourth more fickle, the fifth ever dark.
But this was the month when the moons flickered out,
Leaving little to look at, and less to describe
Except stars, once exhausted, restored to their glory,
And the bilious creatures that creep from gullies
To savage the pots on our porch out of spite.
And yet, every morning, the markets open,
Their tables teeming with tender crops:
Stiff-necked garlic, greens in bunches,
Early peaches, early tomatoes,
A few ears of corn―crates in waiting
Renew our hope in the harvest to come.
The soy spills out and spins in the open
Like oxidized coins, but the corn rattles
With woeful groans, as its green stalks spread
Over patches of tan, tousled and sprawling
Down to the stream banks, like drowsy yeomen
Lolling on hillsides in leather and felt.
But look what we find in the last shaded row
By the long purple barn at the bend in the road:
Primeval acanthus, that carven adornment
And monk-doodled frill. The first one splays
Its spines beneath a spike in flower;
The second rests its rounded leaves.
We take two pots and plunk them down
On opposite sides of an east-facing door
And tempt them to prosper, pretending we live
On the leafy tip of a toppled column
Or the overgrown whorls on the edge of a book.
And maybe we do. A monk would train
Their writhing vines around our failings
To bring our days to a balanced end.
I’d read that poem. It plainly commends
That in the mounting fields and flaming lilies
That line the roads, you look to nature
To grant you peace, but the peace of the world
Has other intentions. When it ticks at the siding
And peers through a curtain of perfect darkness,
Be certain you’re willing to see its face:
The light would force you to learn to distinguish
The fleeting pax of a prosperous garden
From living peace. So let it sulk;
Let frantic stirges and faithless remnants
Claw their own eyes out and cling to the brick.
Let them dribble like mud into meaningless art.
When one scrapes at the window in whispered grievance
And seethes through the screen, scrawl your verses.
To its purposeless sorrow, sing your creation
And praise the day. But don’t look back.