Today, April first, 2012, is April Fool's Day, of course, and this article appears in today's Maine Sunday Telegram on page B3 -- however, it is NOT an April Fool prank:
This is a poem from one of several books of poetry that I've written about Dresden, specifically about Dresden Mills, where my wife Jean and I live, one of the three sections of Dresden including West Dresden and Cedar Grove:
It was a warm summer day and the milkweed had taken over the backyard of the old Cate Farm house in Dresden Mills, Maine, where my family spent every summer from the mid-‘fifties until my wife Jean and I retired there in 1996. Each year I reclaimed a bit more of the yard, and eventually so much of it would be cleared of brush, weeds and the remains of the chicken farm it had been for years that I had to invest in a riding mower and other sorts of equipment to keep it clear. And, of course, we would leave when school began until the teaching year was over in the spring, so the weeds would try to come back while we were gone and the house stood empty over the winter.
This particular year the milkweed had moved in between the apple tree that stood in the center of the backyard and the house, filling the space from the screen porch attached to the back side of the house and the ell. The plants were in full bloom; they had attracted an immense number of bees of various types, and something had to be done if we were to use the yard. I went to the barn and took one of the old scythes off the wall, honed the blade, and carried it out to the scene of action:
Listen to Lew Turco read his poem, The Scythe --
The crescent blade with its snake
snath hangs on the cellar
wall waiting for another
day like last
when the bees in the great patch
of blossoms out back made
an electric sound as
the Inhabitant came
the congregation of stalks into
a large circle then slowly
a smaller one scything
in spirals the
toward the center as the ring
of petal and stamen contracted
the stalks falling bleeding
milk as the
in passing and the buzzing thickened
at heart until only a
last fist of milkweed
stood crowned with
nightcap of nectar before dusk cut
into the still green air
and the Inhabitant leaned
on the snath
I remember that day so very clearly. At first I was merely careful when I swung the blade, but as the circle of weed contracted I began to step back after each pass and wait to see if I were going to be attacked. The bees, though, were so intent on what they were doing that as each arc of plants fell the bees merely moved in to the center of the patch. As my raid proceeded I was falling farther and farther back before I made another pass, then again I would plunge forward, whip the scythe across my body from right to left, and step back to a safe distance.
The last column of milkweed that stood at dead center was alive with flying insects when I took my final swipe and the bees took off for home, wherever that might be. One of those places was very likely a hole in the ground somewhere in the host of raspberry and blackberry bushes that inhabited most of the rest of the two sides of the yard. There was some very fertile soil on the property, and we were careful to preserve the berry bushes that reseeded themselves every year.
All of the inhabitants during berry season would go into the patches to harvest the juicy little fruits, and I for one when I closed my eyes at bedtime, before I drifted off to sleep in the cool Maine night, would see visions of the berries blooming on my eyelids, big, red, and as delicious as dreams.
But there could be retribution: one never knew whether or where there would be a nest of ground bees in the berry patch, and sometimes someone would step into it during the harvest. On those occasions the bees would have their vengeance and we would run into the house with a cloud of fury circling and stinging.
"The Scythe" was originally published in Poetry, Vol. CVIV, No. 5, Aug., 1969; under the title "Cuasa" it was translated into Rumanian by Areta Voroniuc and published in Rumania SSR in the periodical Conviribi Literare, ii:12, 1971, pp. 57-8. It was gathered as part of The Inhabitant, poems, with prints by Thom. Seawell, Northampton: Despa Press, 1970, which is out-of-print, but all poems are collected in Fearful Pleasures: The Complete Poems of Lewis Turco 1959-2007, www.StarCloudPress.com, 2007, 640 pages. Available from AMAZON.COM.
Also included in Fearful Pleasures is this book on the cover of which is the old farmhouse behind which grew the stand of milkweed depicted in "The Scythe":
And a third collection of poems about Dresden and Dresden Mills is this FREE, DOWNLOADABLE on-line e-chapbook of poems, Attic, Shed, and Barn by Lewis Turco, Tokyo: Ahadada Books, 2009.