North Brunswick

James Maher

Everything came to seed or fruit
in August, stems bent low
and boughs hunched with the strain.
Wind dropped and the air went rank
with honeysuckle and rose.
Your fingers revved with desire
for the scythe and a harvest moon.
You wanted winter and the showcase ice:
summer mounted like rare fowl
unruffled and odorless
with dispassionate buds staring,
then the mute snows.

You remembered slides: Roman highways
fallen to successive waves
of grasses, only a trace of cobble
among vineyards and dingy sheep;
or Vandal and his squaw
squatting on the agora, spreading
unclean seeds through the city,
on the gravel and by the wayside,
taking root everywhere.
So you set out to blacktop everything:
you vowed to strap down the land
with good highway
so it won't dare sprout.

You think of your father: ten years dead
and planted in that Montana grit
he farmed for sixty years, at first
God-fearing behind pink-eyed oxen
then crazed and drunk
his whining spurs showered scarlet sparks
as he coaxed the bare steel flanks
of his tractor
and cleared the biggest spud farm
in Ronnahanneck County, Montana.
You still remember the stench
downwind of the swells unsold in his barns
and you still wake from that nightmare;
potato tsunami, then all those fingers,
those eyes.

But now it's evening in North Brunswick,
New Jersey. A spud moon and some stars
come out, and you remember how certain stars
weld their orbits with blue-white heat
and travel like headlights through space
where there are light-millenniums
between black holes.
But roads under you are rumpled
by the way the earth shifts on its hams
and twists to scratch the small faults.

Shrubs across the street are growing.
You hear them strike the dark with clenched
buds. Grass fidgets in the night air.
Vines are poised with small mouths open
and tongues honed and forked.
You can scrub away the green froth
on your fingers, evidence of the stems
you wrung. But the rose stench
clings to your skin.
It enters the cells, finds the heart
and corrodes the wax coating.
Your heart blooms
                                 all the layers unfurled
in a stiff wind.

 

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