Poems
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The South Atlantic Quarterly 103.1 (2004) 101-109



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Poems

James Applewhite


Aging/Healing

People take you for granted,
aging, the way you once counted
on your own body. Isn't it a pity?
Actually, you don't feel any.
Examinations expose your skin, the scenes
under their healing machines

just more inscriptions on the brain.
They manage your pain through a vein,
you go under and don't remember.
You feel interest, partisan empathy,
cheering the doctor in his discovery,
spectator, on the side of your own body.

Sure enough, we won. Now I'm better.
But better than what? Not than years ago,
when I'd chainsaw trees, shrub and mow.
Today I oversee my two-man yard crew:
Kenny with his narrow waist
and Popeye forearms, shoveling fast

all afternoon. Tyler tree-trunk sturdy,
heaving the edging machine into the pickup
as easily as I offer the Styrofoam cup
of Coke. They joke and work
for my respect and check, and mark [End Page 101]

this day for me with redefined drive,
mulch edging the raked gravel in an arc
past the pergola as a perfected curve.
New landscape lights shine newly on
red-fresh pinestraw when the sun has gone.
My wife sees my pleasure in being alive.

As I talk she says that I look young.
I'm pleased to be in the world, among
others heartier, taking part in the song
that all beings sing together—not the one
wielding shovel or saw anymore, but upon
the same ground. I'm sleepier earlier,

but so what? I nap and forget, reader
of the body's story, playing follow the leader.
The light at this end of time seems mellower.
Sun seems to touch the renewed yard
with affection, an enhanced regard.

The old have their place in the world,
even if finally it's a hole. The memory
of pain fades, the fright passes, the agony
ends, eventually. This is to say
that the things I dread can't spoil
this brilliant decline of afternoon, the toil

of words, of imagined and real, the forms
that lines assume, the rhymes as they throng
my paper, though mirrors say "no longer young."
That old dream. Image of self, the perfection
of a look or an act, lonely exaltation,
once, of power in the body. These different times.

I live among others, for others, see myself
in sidelong glances as the fallible granddad
who forgets his glasses. But they sit for me to read:
the grandsons, the students, fellow professors of breath
for whom delight is what we discover, together.
I don't see why it can't go on forever.[End Page 102]

Against an Ocean Horizon

Missing her father she joins me by the gray-blue crashing water.
She likes the kite I fly
and I tow string to my grandson, as shy
at nine as she at nine is direct and full
of lonely talk and beautiful.
The sky's azure, touching ocean
seems the line of summer at autumn.
She sighs like an adult,
telling of the divorce, hurt
but whole in her curled loveliness,
feet quick in the waves that chase us—
friends, since she and her brother
came over when I was grilling, the weather
part stormy, as now. She laughs
as the wind takes away our breaths
and I show her where
my nine-month grandson shines his hair
blowing in sun, and she runs there—
my heart sharply
balancing on pity and beauty.
We all see coming rain
and go in, veils blurring the demarcation
of ocean and sky, transition
itself a blade in my breath
as I look back the width
of beach to her farewell waving hand
over the brilliant, cloud-bruised sand.
Later, I watch water on a leaf-tip
clear as her cornea, pregnant to signal
with convex lip
the light's liquid adhesion and fall.[End Page 103]

Geese by a Drying Lake

A bluebird and its mate
together on a wire
in late afternoon, as heat
grows less with the light
tolerate stasis a moment
though there's nothing...



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