There were fields around our homes, Joel,
some fallow for a season, others full of maize.
Around them were the woods, in winter
a filigree of witch-fingers clutching at the sky,
in summer, overgrowing every boundary.
Enclosed within the symmetry of corn rows
and houses, we slept well at night, although
boys’ thoughts drift and shape-shift.
We could see there was no reconciliation
between the earth and our back and forth
attempts at order. Fences falling groundward
succumbed beneath vines. An orchard grown wild
was our prototype for Eden. Its apples were picked
by deer, or left in the grass as God intended,
rotting with their wasted cider.
In the north country now, I imagine people are burning
leaves. Fire runs through them like a loose dog.
From the hillside, you can see smoke rising, a man
standing there beside the bonfire, watching. A woman
comes out from the house. It’s almost a ritual scene.
There are no leaves burning in this yard.
I hear voices from inside the cafe, but I’m alone
beneath a locust tree, drinking coffee,
watching two men in the next yard over
gather tomatoes they grew somehow amid the ruins
of a Brooklyn townhouse. Odd angles, old brick
mold-mottled, and those green, gaunt vines
that twist and zigzag, and branch out, emerald lightning.
The property was abandoned back in March
when they cut the chainlink fence. Together,
they cleared as much of the soil as they could
of stones and glass. Boards protruding from the ground,
like the bones of a half-buried animal, they pulled loose
and set up to hold the twine they used
for a makeshift trellis. They planted their sprouts.
As the season advanced, they appeared more
at home. One of them hung art on the remnants of a wall,
portraits painted by children, his own, I guessed,
faces composed of bright colors that matched
the beans and peppers, and tall sunflowers whose
big dials of yellow petals counted down the hours.
Someone mid-summer tried to mend the fence.
A sign was posted: NO TRESPASSING!
PROPERTY FOR SALE.
It didn’t stop them. Today, they are laughing,
picking the ripened fruit and vegetables,
gathering the good in baskets, tossing the bad away.
Their joy, their exuberance in their work,
how could it be for just tomatoes?
Whenever I saw them weeding in the sun,
shirts off, sweat curdling through their skin,
they reminded me of the parable about a man
who sold everything he owned in order to buy
the field where he found a hidden pearl.
Have I misunderstood them? Maybe that heavy, red fruit
is more than enough. But we lived according to the poem:
living within, / you beget, self-out-of-self,
selfless, / the pearl of great price.1
Joel, we haven’t talked in years. I can’t guess anymore
what you are feeling, if your optimism we shared survives.
Addicted to the opium of poetry, I foster in myself
that one impurity, hoping to work it into luster,
but it’s funny to think that all it takes to undo a pearl
is one cup of vinegar.
1 H.D. “The Walls Do Not Fall” 4.43-46
William Welch lives in Utica, NY, where he works as a registered nurse on a critical care unit, and also as editor of Doubly Mad, a literary and visual arts journal published by The Other Side of Utica, Inc. His work has appeared in numerous journals, most recently in Thimble Literary Magazine, Rust+Moth, and Stone Canoe. His poem “The Border” was a finalist for the 2020 Adelaide Literary Award for Poetry.