May 9, 2020
The spade, fetched off its nail within the shed,
Swings with a heft beside me as I go
To pay the garden bed out back a visit.
The frosts have passed. The time has come for planting.
Grey, hardened clods slice cleanly off the blade.
Dead leaves that cluster in the rough, and stems
From pepper plants pulled out and left to dry
With last November’s swift and hardening freeze,
Go down into the darkness, while the earth
Gets raised and turned to show its loamy black.
I glide the spade to level out the soil,
Then point its edge and tally rows of troughs.
These guide my work: to sift each pepper seed,
Minute and ivory, off the palm and down,
Then tamp the soft dirt over, gently patting
Just as you might a dog’s deep flank of scruff.
And now, I pull a sleeve from my back pocket.
The air is cool, the sky a marbled brightness,
The kind that makes you raise your head in hope.
And so, I tear the paper seam, and tap
A chunky clutch of mammoth sunflower seeds
Into my palm. Then, stretched on hands and knees,
I drill a row of deep holes with my finger,
And nest each seed beneath a layer of soil.
They’ll measure out the season with their growth
Until the children can return to school.
I know that, far from here, the farmers run
Their tractors into fields grown ripe of beans,
With glabrous, greeny heads of cabbages,
And plow what they’ve raised back into the soil.
Onions lie piled in newly opened trenches,
The backhoe sifting dirt on their white skins.
And others steer their pregnant dairy trucks
Right to the edge of stinking compost pits
And flush a thousand gallons of fresh milk.
No one to pick it all, no one to buy it,
So back and back into the ground it goes;
The fields of Florida and Idaho,
Great wastes of idle, rotting fruitfulness
On which their stewards stare at loss for speech.
How much is being buried now, that stood,
Just days ago, among us, full of life.
I hear from friends up north, the Boston Globe
Runs on for pages with obituaries,
And watched, last night, in silence, as my wife
Sat on the couch and spread the local broadsheet.
Her fingers traced a bow beneath the lamplight
With such a dancing, tranquil elegance
That suddenly stopped short to find them there,
Lined up in columns running on for miles:
The grainy, ink stamped faces of the dead.
I hear, as well, a story from Virginia.
A friend of ours, expecting her first child,
Has gone out walking in the countryside,
The red clay faintly glowing in the fields
Beneath alfalfa. Tall pines arched above.
She stops to pick some clover, while a woman
Glides past her on the narrow walk and smiles.
She sits down in the long and shaded grass
That lines the trail, then smooths her dress, and spreads,
Upon the shrinking parcel of her lap,
The little bunch of clover that she’s gathered,
To note the variegations on the leaves.
But then, she senses someone standing by;
The woman who had passed has now returned.
I don’t know why it was she thought to do so—
Made curious, maybe, by such idle study.
But, seeing the little pile of trefoil leaves,
And, seeing the rounded fullness of her dress,
The woman says, “It looks like you’re expecting.”
There, in the pleasant silence that descends,
She raises up a flattened palm and prays,
Our friend’s eyes softly closed and her head bowed
To take whatever blessing here was given.
Oh, let them grow, these flowers of the sun,
And let those buried crops beget anew;
And let what has been lost not be forgotten;
And let the world know seasons once again,
Where we can stare in joy unmixed with grief
On all that grows and spreads upon the earth.
-James Matthew Wilson