The last flowers blaze their dry color
like Easter baskets left outside all year into the first freeze of autumn,
their reds and oranges flaming from dry frost-bit stalks.
This is the last day after sixteen years we will tend them.
In the spring rains, a new enormous house of fieldstone
will fill this garden with its family of four and three car garage.
This is the garden that glowed the golden color of my wife's hair,
gone cold now with memory and the need to be elsewhere.
We will not be here,
having followed the leaves in their last ecstasy.
The empty rooms of our children will have been torn down:
our children will be lying with their own in other beds.
They will come and go with the turning of books in far away towns.
I think, if we are lucky, the photographs from inside our house
will be carried on a coyote's wail into the night of western mountains.
There will be parties by candlelight on desert slopes with desert friends.
There will be winter streams that lay a black ice over these years
so that we can skate over them dancing above our aging friends.
If we are lucky, there will be no pain in letting go.
Only with you
do I hold the hour's peace
recalling our poems
in the rainy Italian graveyard
bright with neverfalling
flows of flowers;
on the dry steps of the Bona's chapel
do I hear canticle birds
trade tunes with vesper bells
that clang out Catholic hymns
known to your youth;
do I watch replanters
water memories that slip past
formal oval portraits
to a grin reflected
in a glass of wine.
Only you said that time had come
to trade poetry for dinner,
just as my soft electric candles
began to cheer
our damp twilight;
then I remembered
how I hate to leave any place,
and you reminded me
we will have our turn
when we won't have to leave.
On the way to Wisconsin
there were thick black hours at first, darker than death except for the headlights,
because we got up at three or four in the morning
so that my father could beat the traffic
and get ahead of the boxcar trucks on the two-lane roads.
This was long before I-94.
In Ann Arbor there was rain on the darkened pavement,
and the lonely traffic lights played to an audience of one.
Red, yellow, and green.
It seemed nonsensical, and little did I know at the time
that I would spend six years in that city someday
and (briefly) wonder if life was worth living because of the machinations
of a young man there who barely knew what he was doing,
and because I was young and vulnerable. Also naive.
Beyond Ann Arbor there were farms, and no rain,
but there were lights in the barns.
The farmers were always up at the crack of dawn, or even before.
Telephone poles hustled in even, steady rows past the windows of the car.
The boxcars were not moving yet.
We watched to see who would observe the first white horse.
Late in the morning it was hot. The heat rose
around us like vapor from steampipes,
and we stopped at a roadside picnic table to eat.
We drank milk from paper cups,
and ate bologna sandwiches, devilled eggs,
and cookies, also carrot sticks.
There was a fence, blue cornflowers, and tall grass.
The telephone poles stopped hustling for awhile,
and the boxcars came trundling by.
In the car my father broke into song sporadically while he drove.
"Shine on Harvest Moon" was one of his favorites.
When we crossed the Indiana state line, he sang
"Back Home Again in Indiana!"
Then I knew we were getting somewhere.
Then, and when we saw the enormous Rinso box
on the top of some tall, gray building, probably a factory.
Gary and Hammond smelled bad.
(We usually circumvented Chicago,
but once, just once, we were on Lake Shore Drive at night,
and I saw glowing globes of light lining the curbs
like a fairyland.
It was beyond imagining
that this would be my home when I grew up.)
Across the Wisconsin state line we watched for Yerkes in the distance.
It was hard to spot; it showed up in just one place
over the hills. Then, when we saw its silver dome glinting in the sun, we knew
that we were almost there.
Almost there! Where the pies were baked,
and Grandma Congdon waited in the kitchen,
wearing the little metal curlers in the white wisps of curls on her forehead,
and her white apron, and her blue dress!
This was the heartland,
the gentlest heartbeat of the family,
where there were many relatives, and heaven on earth!
A variety of rituals would proceed,
Church together on Sundays,
bouncing a softball against the side of the brown-shingled house,
trips to the library in a yellow dress,
sliding down the banister in the cool front hall,
playing the music box.
I savored it all
clutching my happiness like a small stuffed doll,
knowing in my small and almost stalwart heart
what I knew all the way to Wisconsin,
that everything would change,
that someday she would be gone,
and everything would be different,
and I would be immersed in the mystery of the future,
even though the Yerkes silvery dome
would still rise, alone, above the hills.
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