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.

Strange Birds

In the summer we sat out by the reservoir
and watched the water shrink.
The city sent us notices
about leafy spurge and spotted knapweed.

Sometimes we mowed lawn,
picked apples, Elberta peaches;
canned some, saw the rest rot,
the grass to our knees, the driveway clear.

Hummingbirds stopped by —
and jays, cowbirds, and robins —
so many even I, fifty years, tired of them,

remembered the old Indian
who taught me to bury birds
so I could dig them up
stripped of feather and skin
and learn their bones.

But not a word about the season

how when the cold came
they had all moved on,
and now, just the prints
of deer and foxes in the snow.

So starting out this morning
I disturbed you shaking in a branch
and only heard the sound that you made leaving.
Something I had never heard before:

a cry the snow the pines.

Linked Tanka #2

I don’t remember
Februarys so empty:
the house wrens are gone
the elk are in the white hills,
the earth so old it forgets

it misplaces things:
deer file past without stopping
the grass never wakes
there’s a hole in the pine tree
where scrub-jays used to chatter

but it is nothing.
it is nothing April can’t.
April can’t erase.
nothing April can’t erase.
nothing it can’t remember.

Linked Tanka

the snow reminds me
the apple tree is dying:
the cold, the mule deer;
but it is waiting for me
to learn to love the dry grass

I take the bow saw
to prune back the apple tree;
we both get smaller:
each year there is more dead wood
with each year, just heartwood left