Cold or No
Early ice slips in beneath fog,
an Arctic path of frostbite, bruised
black across Britain.
A farmer deigns to wear a sweater,
reving his tractor up the road. Almost Christmas
but he works. Oxford markets order
potatoes and sprouts,
the butcher hangs venison, geese
bloody on their hooks,
extra food for Boxing Day.
This farmer has two fields barren, fallowed
in a land otherwise occupied.
He recalls deer fleeing into Finstock from cold,
small strips of forest noisome from old snow.
Wychwood’s reduced to almost nothing:
canola fields, livestock, houses, little else.
Thirty deer marched down High Street,
hooves hammering sleet and cement.
Bucks skittered into school grounds, rooting grass
at the football pitch; does hove to, pruning yews,
stripping twelve willows by the church.
Imagine Finstock next morning
chewed to stub.
This farmer turns toward his third field:
vetch, maybe, or late winter rye,
more greens for Oxfordshire.
Cold or no, everybody needs to eat.
My Father Lying Down
On my knees, I clean spring beds, perennials
recovering from February. Narcissus shoots
spear sycamore mulch, ice
still straggles in shade, winter’s last thin strata.
These daffodils open to sun, calibrated
to the tilt of earth’s axes, the lope of elliptical orbits.
Not like my father worn down by strokes,
tired of doctors, all of us
urging exercise, wishing him to eat or read,
to stay awake. At the end he didn’t want
my mother gardening. “But look,” she’d say,
“smell these.” He’d raise his head from the pillow
and seem to breathe some bonfire bloom,
only to turn immediately to sleep. My father,
who was always on his knees, staking peonies,
crawling through heavy scent for hours,
stopped one day looking. I wasn’t watching
when it happened. Maybe I was out
in the garden, like now, weeding these jonquils,
their shock of gold thrust up
for water and warmth, and no other reason.
Drawing to Light
By the bed, we wait for hours,
our gaze drawn to windows: light
recedes in slants
up my father’s walls.
The doctor thinks he sees
a series of small strokes, capillaries
deep in one lobe too porous,
flabby from age and cholesterol.
My father said, “If I go back
to the home, I’ll kill myself.”
Now he’s drawn inward to hips and knees,
to morphine and his old silence.
My mother leans in a familiar gesture.
She combs his eyebrows and still-black hair,
smoothes the hem of the hospital gown.
He slips into what we believe is sleep;
maybe he’s dreaming of reading,
exquisite hours of solitude,
maybe thinking of my mother,
ever so lightly brushing his hair.