Friday, November 14, 2008

Crab Tree

One day after the first day of autumn
I'm in the front yard with an old plastic bucket
and wheelbarrow—flat-tired, rust spread
across the well like a burnt orange continent—
crouched in grass under the crab tree
to rid the lawn of its small, fallen apples.

There are hundreds: some ripe green, some brown,
others black, shriveled like hard raisins.
My dad says it’s like mowing over cobblestone.
Can’t blame him for wanting them gone, in that case.

I start with the outermost rim, sweeping an arc
under the farthest reach of dark, webbed branches.
The first apple dropped makes the purest sound:
a thud, air in collision, then a quick
staccato as it patters to rest against the bottom.

After this, adding more will always mean less
noise; each apple is caught, muffled by the others.

I gather two-handed, from one knee, and find
my eyes are not enough: some fruit is embedded
in thatches of wet grass, obscured, waiting to root.

My fingers pry into life below the surface.
I unearth a grub, curled and white, perennial
bane of my dad’s lawn-keeping, and later on
a mottled insect with long antennae and what I guess
is a stinger, or a slender prong evolved
to look like one. And around them, the apples
scattered everywhere, filling bucket after bucket.

I push each heavy mounded wheelbarrow
into the backyard and beyond the trees, to dump.
There beside a groundswell—leaf-hidden remains
of last year’s crop—and a gray stripe of ashes
from the fireplace, I upend the load and feel certain
that nothing is what it was, innumerable lot
of small hard things tumbling one over the other,
limbs of oaks occluding windows of houses,
the cold, clear whiteness of the sky in this season
not as white. No doubt I can expect the same
task next year, once the apples fall, and I will see.

You can never go back, someone says to me.
Fruitless hope or not, I think I am trying.

I work inward until the grass is flat and smooth
under my palms. Slow, concentric, feeling back
with unclean hands toward the source of something.