The bride has shown up, but the priest balks: It’s the vows.
She can understand English, but not the language of the old
country. She holds the embroidered cloth in her damp hands;
the grandfather scowls. A compromise—in both tongues—
and soon the sounds of a choir lift beyond the chapel, beyond
birches on the dirt road into town. It’s prairie harvest
time. Wheels send dust into the air, and adults wear stung
smiles that hide the sorrow of lost decades; friends, too-dark
mascara and flimsy strapless gowns in a fabric no one has
agreed upon, suit pants three years too short. At a singular note,
silence: everyone struck by the knowledge they are exposed,
in costume, must ride out this moment, just as the once-tender
pianist, hair licked down, remembers having to plow through
für elise yet again for the aunt from Winnipeg. It was Robert Frost
who said the best way out is through. Years ago, strong horses
pulled dry goods or beer on carts without sides, sturdy drays
that took the corduroy roads in and out of town and waited
on Main Street for the next load to strain their axles or topple
into the dirt. It was always something: grain to the station, water
to the doctor, bolts of cloth to the seamstress across the tracks.
Hope. Chance. Heavy cargo. Rutted roads, impassible after spring
rains. Are there other means to deliver this? To have and to hold,
till death do you part will do. For now, let’s raise a glass of home
brew, dance with that lanky, red-cheeked boy wearing his father’s
Old Spice. Here’s to old roads we rediscover, to burdens ahead.
To those swinging birches, clicking at dissipating strains
of hymns. Years going, years bringing back; the grace of the ride.
To wheels, a horse, a blessed summer day. To the ride.
Early spring, after scalpel cut bone, something traveled to an artery, dropped
him to the floor. He lay alone, calling out gibberish, until an orderly came, lifted
his flopping limbs to a gurney.
The summer I was pregnant, my friend took photos in a prairie
field. Wind flattened thin white cotton against my skin. My nipples
were blossoms; my palm cupped each flutter in my belly.
Fear in his eyes, hair askew, he was the hub, the host to teams of doctors
and tender-faced residents producing language for don’t know, can’t
promise. We were on alert: what was light, what will remain shadow?
Later, in her darkroom, afternoon sun occluded by a black curtain,
we dipped paper into trays, watched shapes emerge. Plunged
images into a stop bath: my face, arms, the singularity of an eye.
As though a hand had plucked him, too, from day, dipped his fingers,
tongue, legs, wanting all of him back. But light, stronger, stayed the pull.
His son and I at the side of the bed, still, bud roses in the window.
You heard she is home, in a hospital bed by the window
Too cold to plant, and the rain will not
stop. Apple blossoms droop, the dog
is listless, and the road has washed out.
You are soggy, tamped down, your body
restless. Now is the time to haul,
cut, dig. To sweat. Fill hands with seeds
and dirt, eyes with red sunsets. To walk into
the ocean, feel again its baptism of shocking
cold, read parables it leaves on the beach:
a shard of blue crockery, a glove, the tongue
of a boot. Miles away, a woman looks out
on the same sea, different shore, head wrapped
in a scarf, hands on a page. Nothing to be done
about this rain. There is nothing to be
done. You scrape a match on the brick,
crumple paper, begin to feed the fire
with overwintered deadfall until
the heat draws you in.