December, Taking Out the Compost

I walk our kitchen scraps to the compost pile:
ragged red-leaf lettuce, long English cucumbers
forgotten at the back of the fridge
moist, soft as sponge.

The flu is going around.
I had congratulated myself that I escaped it,
that others were more mortal,
but it has hit me hard.
I glower: neanderthal, punished
and miss a step on the deer trail,
slipping on the rock.

It strikes me that this vegetable box full of earth
tucked away behind the woodshop
(overflowing now — too cold and too dry to decompose)
is the most important thing I own:
a memento mori masquerading as gardening.

There will be a time
when my body, too, will stop working,
when it will break down,
become a part of the cottonwood,
animate the catnip and the chokecherry
feed the mule deer in spring
take its place on the Hogback —

On the compost pile /
like my own hands
the cucumbers are familiar and strange.

I grab the haying fork,
mix them in,
and forget again.