by Barbara Crooker
Another October. The maples have done their slick trick
of turning yellow almost overnight; summer’s hazy skies
are cobalt blue. My friend has come in from the West,
where it’s been a year of no mercy: chemotherapy, bone
marrow transplant, more chemotherapy, and her hair
came out in fistfuls, twice. Bald as a pumpkin.
And then, the surgeon’s knife.
But she’s come through it all, annealed by fire,
calm settled in her bones like the morning mist in valleys
and low places, and her hair’s returned, glossy
as a horse chestnut kept in a shirt pocket.
Today a red fox ran down through the corn stubble;
he vanished like smoke. I want to praise things
that cannot last. The scarlet and orange leaves
are already gone, blown down by a cold rain,
crushed and trampled. They rise again in leaf meal
and wood smoke. The Great Blue Heron’s returned to the pond,
settles in the reeds like a steady flame.
Geese cut a wedge out of the sky, drag the gray days
behind them like a skein of old wool.
I want to praise everything brief and finite.
Overhead, the Pleiades fall into place; Orion rises.
Great Horned Owls muffle the night with their calls;
night falls swiftly, tucking us in her black velvet robe,
the stitches showing through, all those little lights,
our little lives, rising and falling.
This August in Washington, fires bloomed in the Railroad Creek valley where Peter and I lived for two years. In Michigan, my father’s flaring pancreas sent him to the emergency room twice–and in Maine, Peter and I worked forty, fifty, or sixty hours a week, trying to save money during our states’ busy season. Peter and I spent our first month of marriage worrying about places and people we loved, while we plodded through the grind of the workweek, too far away to take in friends chased from their homes by fire or to sit shifts by Dad’s hospital bed. We kept our phones in our pockets. We studied forest service fire maps and lit beeswax prayer candles at our kitchen table.
Since August, things have gotten better. Holden Village survived this summers’ fires and Dad is home and feeling healthy. These days, the air has a brisk snap and Peter and I have woken a handful of times to see frost sparkling the meadow around our cabin. Peter put our vegetable garden to bed last week, and I’ve been filling the chest freezer with peppers, tomatoes, and apple cider, and stocking the root seller with potatoes, onions, and winter squash. Summer farmers’ markets are slowing down and by the end of the month both Peter and my workweeks will winnow down to less then thirty hours. Soon, Peter will start baking bread for a nearby store and I will begin shaping the final assignments for the online class I’m teaching. It’s October, and I, like Barbara Crooker want to praise things that cannot last. The scarlet and orange leaves…blown down by a cold rain, crushed and trampled [that will] rise again in leaf meal and wood smoke. I want to breathe the autumn air drifting in my open windows, to hear to the crinkle of leaves catching the wind, and to smell dirt dampened by dew. I want to put the crock pot on in the morning and walk into my home in the evening to the smell of sweet potatoes and ginger simmering into a soup. Our lives rise and fall, while we hang onto love, to the changing seasons, to each day that passes, hoping to preserve its shape and story.