Mid-March: Late Frost Among The Fruit Trees

By Ernie Jones

A yellow bus rolls the rutted road, slowing
down to the opened gate.

From its folded door steps a boy
with an old Army bag on his shoulder.
It is full of books, and his collar hangs askew.

A man stands amid the peachtrees watching
through the trunkrows. He recalls that moment
his hands, against that new smooth skin,
became his father’s hands.
Lying out back of Martin Methodist
the old man has little say in things these days.
The boy’s books teach evolution
and he has never bowed his head
with his teachers. So it goes.
Amen and amen.

Still, in a warm winter, prayer never hurt anyone.
Peaches need freezing. When the cold is over
they are free, at last, to open.
Now, after too mild a season,
they have bloomed anyway. So it is.

But those warm Gulf winds that blew
three months are turning northwesterly now.
One can feel in the skin the coming-on cold
and see it in doubled-over daffodils and
rusty purple iris. Rebellious Bradford pears
exploding white against a thin sky
will soon shake off that silk
and stand stripped like Salomé.
(Behind Judas’ dank breath, after all,
stood the soldiers’ cold swords.)

The boy must hope for snow days.
The wife won’t speak of snow,
neither when it’s wanted nor when it’s not.
Now the boy is up the steps
and they will be there
in that house together, not speaking of it.
Why, he often wondered, did the old man
sometimes wander out to the trees?

Here he is.
He thinks,
If this body could become a lightning rod
for cold. If it could hold
all that was coming, draw it off,
then I would stand all night
and all day and the next night.
Come morning, they could tip me
in a wheelbarrow, haul me off,
lay me in the clay beside my father there,
where we’d talk about whatever
the mossy dead chew on forever.
Yes, even that. I would.

That he would, and more.
But it is written in the books
beneath the boy’s light arm
that one cannot. One can only
await a second miracle
in as many months.

The wind is low and wet, and prayer
a thing of air after all.
Above him, birds whirl, confused,
quarrelsome at the cold that has caught them.
And he would shake his fist at God
if the empty sky
wouldn’t simply swallow it.

 

Photo by Anita Ritenour