It’s autumn in the market—
not wise anymore to buy tomatoes.
They’re beautiful still on the outside,
some perfectly round and red, the rare varieties
misshapen, individual, like human brains covered in red
Inside, they’re gone. Black, moldy—
you can’t take a bite without anxiety.
Here and there, among the tainted ones, a fruit
still perfect, picked before decay set in.
Instead of tomatoes, crops nobody really wants.
Pumpkins, a lot of pumpkins.
Gourds, ropes of dried chilis, braids of garlic.
The artisans weave dead flowers into wreaths;
they tie bits of colored yarn around dried lavender.
And people go on for a while buying these things
as though they thought the farmers would see to it
that things went back to normal:
the vines would go back to bearing new peas;
the first small lettuces, so fragile, so delicate, would begin
to poke out of the dirt.
Instead, it gets dark early.
And the rains get heavier; they carry
the weight of dead leaves.
At dusk, now, an atmosphere of threat, of foreboding.
And people feel this themselves; they give a name to the season,
harvest, to put a better face on these things.
The gourds are rotting on the ground, the sweet blue grapes are
A few roots, maybe, but the ground’s so hard the farmers think
it isn’t worth the effort to dig them out. For what?
To stand in the marketplace under a thin umbrella, in the rain, in
the cold, no customers anymore?
And then the frost comes; there’s no more question of harvest.
The snow begins; the pretense of life ends.
The earth is white now; the fields shine when the moon rises.
I sit at the bedroom window, watching the snow fall.
The earth is like a mirror:
calm meeting calm, detachment meeting detachment.
What lives, lives underground.
What dies, dies without struggle.
From The Yale Review, April 2008, issue 96.2.
Image: Detail from Gerrit Willem Dijsselhof, Wall Panel with Orchids, c. 1892, ink and watercolor on paper. Rijksmuseum.