Autumn nights with a moon, my grandfather
napped on our couch, the green afghan
covering his brief and sober slumber.
Outside, the last cow milked, my father
shut the milk house down.
Night lost the lulling pulse of work.
He brought the truck around and idled
while my grandfather took two apples
off the table in his daughter’s house.
The men drove to a field near the ocean.
Corn stalks rustled, waves broke.
No headlights on my father’s one row chopper,
but the moon shone on water
and off the roofs of summer homes
whose empty porches faced the sea.
Row by row my father felled his crop,
my grandfather in the truck keeping pace
beside him. The truck bed filled with corn silk,
cobs, the shredded leaves and milky kernels—
one load out of a winters’ worth of feed
if they got lucky with a lenient season.
My father, high as the moon, my grandfather,
his stubble illuminated through the windshield.
The salt and diesel fumes, the earth disturbed—
if these men had noticed the waves breaking,
the fluorescent ruffling of surf so close,
they might have known: This place
will not mean work much longer to anyone
but us. I can’t guess what they feared
that night beyond an early frost.
I only remember my father alone, his fields
close to home, his songs traveling
from barn to house without him,
and my grandfather in his own kitchen,
bottle empty, his shirt missing buttons,
a black dog cowering behind the stove.
Though I try to claim, instead, the companionable
solace of their nights together, briefly
to feel unabandoned by their solitude,
as if we, too, all of us bound by work
and blood and the needs of one season
and the next, rode the crest of that harvest,
followed that flawless moon in a place
that might always have been field
into those darker and shorter days ahead.