Poems > World Travelers

My father stops
to catch his breath.  Everything
in his orchard seems to draw up,
saving air in case he needs it.

His arm curls around me and he says:
Apple trees have a life span
like you and me.  It is important to notice
when they keel and make knotty fruit, yet
you must treat them kindly and with respect,
remembering the gifts they have
borne you, what applesauce, what cider!

He walks me through the ryegrass
so delicately.  I want to be
his Magellan, but I come home
full of stories I never tell.
What matters here are two new trees,
fragile as fawn legs,
he just planted among the Jonathans.
I think I’ll live to eat
an apple from this, he says,
tweaking the little Winesap
like a grandson.

And then he stoops to wonder at
the humus, black and pliable,
a foot deep.  He says
you can tell what to do
with the soil by tasting it.
Pinches some between his finger tips
like a bit of snuff.  Sweet!
He smiles.  Savor this!  Believe me,
it started out sour and hard as slate.
You can taste your whole history,
the summers of alfalfa and clover,
the snowstorm of ’53, even your
lightning and thunder is in there.

He never tires of walking his domain,
rarely asks about mine.
This is why:  nothing I have ever done
or no place I have gone equals
the sum of this small continent,
its contours like
the roundness of his palms.

-- Thanks to Passages North where this first appeared many years ago. It meant a lot back then:  Editor Benedict accepted it and it was one of my first poems published in Michigan.  Writing it helped me as I struggled to understand my father, my relationship to him, and the importance of that piece of land to which he – and I – belonged.  This poem also was reprinted in the Passage North Anthology:  A Decade of Good Writing in 1990.