Visit to Harpswell
Soft-shell clams have quit the small
tide-flat beside the house; only
a crushed-shell layer of evidence.
Mussels have abandoned every
inch—two hundred-sixteen miles—
of shore the township boasts.
Over crab cakes and roasted
root vegetables we discuss green crabs,
first brought here in ballast water
in the eighteen hundreds, and like us,
tough, adaptable, not much good
to eat, invading up the coast.
The granddaughter is six weeks old,
still distressed by this assault
of senses. Her mother’s milk soothes
only for a moment. Her father
raises oysters, hopes to clean the ocean,
capture carbon, make delicious food.
Sunday’s paper says this year scallops
perished in Long Island Sound before
they could be caught and eaten; oyster
shells lie empty in the Gulf. We have
no way to keep up with the losses, yet
we all are desperate to comfort her.
Suddenly I see it, standing autumn gold, small
in a small wet field between an old barn
and houses marching uphill out of town.
It has sprouted, rooted, grown…at home
in marshy ground. It could be joined by alder,
red maple, rising through tall, temporary grass.
It’s like my grade-school classmate, living
his separate life in our North Danville neighborhood:
we made friends slowly but, it seemed, for good.
Soft green spring tufts, wild purple cones,
even this gold—dry and dropped by winter;
and his uncalculating kindness, gone.
I doubt the tamarack, preoccupied
with season-toil, attends to my attention,
but I, for my long blindness, feel disloyal.
I wasn’t trained this way; I say I never chose
that quick tinge of scorn for those who
struggle on, unaware they’ve been forsaken.
A fine cable runs from peony petal
to light fixture above the kitchen table.
A spider smaller than a dewdrop
drew it from herself. In her ascending dance
she’s delicate, indifferent with assurance.
I bring in blowsy boisterous blooms
knowing I bring the family too. Small ants
scoot toward breadcrumbs on the cutting board.
They and six earwigs swiftly set up shop;
I quarrel only fitfully with them to stop.
Creatures emerge for days; buds surge
open, shoulder into one another;
occupants visit bloom to bloom—
yellow spider quits the yellow peony,
glows in a new magenta petal home.
Two days—one blossom or another
tires, drops deep coral petals as though
a child released them in oncoming sleep.
Drifts pile on table, slip to chair, still more
colors, tarnished, spill across the floor.
Sunlight fills the kitchen but keeps moving.
Nothing stops; everything slows. Beauty
slips out of nouns and adjectives, the vase,
the sturdy shelf. It takes all my courage
just to sit here with my less impatient self.
It took twenty-five years for rot
to test my choice to work the land
inside this fence. Slowly, I forgot
those days of labor; mind and hands;
selecting a correct position;
setting posts, wire, gates. The plan
to change the hillside’s wild condition
seemed wise, but had the arrogance
of easy ownership ambition.
Not rot alone, but a cruel chance
laid the gate twisted on stone stairs—
a scold to my entitled permanence.
Deer came late winter. Cold stars,
the gate left open (no crop to grow);
perhaps a dog bark; the sudden fear
made this a wire prison. The doe
hurled herself against the fierce surprise
of fence again and yet again. The slow
harsh breath, the failed attempt to rise,
the crooked angles of leg and head,
wild realization in her eyes.
And all the confidence and pride—
delight in the good things I raise
and share with friends eager to be fed—
melted like spring snow. These April days,
a time to reconsider. Should I
rebuild a gate that tries to say
who may and who may not drop by
for sustenance? A strange distress,
almost a confession. That panicked eye
is skin torn from my cleverness.
Our good food feels like an illusion—
the loss has soured our success.
But still, I reach the gardener’s conclusion
that of course we must have carrots, beans,
corn, arugula in fall profusion.
Rebuilding the gate now means
I get another, chastised chance
to waltz with many shades of green,
a few more years, a final dance;
a gift more measured, understood—
not an assertion of endurance.
I built it back, brought cedar wood,
pried out the stumps, dug the holes again,
stapled back the wire. I thought I could
not do it, but I did; even wore pain
from my effort like a silent boast,
too satisfied, too proud to complain.
When I have joined the league of ghosts
will the soil’s next guests have learned the art
of knowing they are visitors, not hosts?
The land keeps saying “Stop! If you must start,
remember you are here by gift. Begin
with the instruction of a broken heart.”
SCUDDER PARKER grew up on a family farm in North Danville VT. He’s been a Protestant minister, state senator, utility regulator, candidate for Governor, consultant on energy efficiency and renewable energy, and is settling into his ongoing work as a poet and essay writer. He’s a passionate gardener and proud grandfather of four. He and his wife, Susan, live in Middlesex VT. Scudder has published in Sun Magazine, Vermont Life, Northern Woodlands, Wordrunner, Passager, Eclectica, Twyckenham Notes, Crosswinds, Ponder Review, La Presa, Aquifer, and Sky Island Journal. His first volume of poetry Safe as Lightning will be released June, 2020, by Rootstock Publications.