At dawn wind out of the north, hailflecks, pebbly
skates against windows. I lie thinking
the drainspout’s drip comes
again in the basement
faucet where I am crying,
a child betrayed by death’s
new cardinal and the cat
yawning on the porch
where my grandmother found me.

Risen now, I see the river full-bodied, its white
wind-knotted hair swirling like hers.
The polar hickory is naked
as a saber recalled by a girl
long gone in the gold
sauce of apples.
Two leaves that might be
cardinals returned
tumble in the hard light
at the brick fence.
Nothing moves in boxwood
where gray soldiers lie.

Among the last of them she walked, cupping apples,
staining her white frock, who took
a boy far back into the haze
the Shenandoah hills held
where family stallions
might walk aimless ground
littered with purpling flesh
beyond the cull of seasons.
Through a gate nailed
with leather belts
in my mind, I pass and enter
the arthritic orchard
tended by widows. What
I gather wakes me to think

how bright on the tongue was the taste kept
concealed, sustained, of flesh
abiding, months beneath
the wintering house floors.
To reach this I must go
down storm-worn stones
and pick my steps past
the sealed boxes of family
debris, nightgowns, flannels,
ribbons, birthspoons, a pair
of dulled skates, flowers
pressed in a moldy Bible.

Why is it we keep what we cannot bear
to use, and can’t escape, shoving
ourselves into shrunken rooms
edged with old foolishness
unforgiven and unforgotten?
I fumble to the center
and pull a yellow light
down the ancient string
still dependably there
and stand, in my head,
as she did, playfully
asking where they went.
I know, I know, I say
back there in the dust
where I’ve come again
to look through tiny windows
into skirts of boxwood, a morning

that sends me alive among gray soldiers
at the house roots. I see also blue
preserving jars full of slick
pulpy flesh she has put up
in a juice thick as blood.
Behind it all in dark eaves,
baskets of apples, split
pine boxes like generations
steeping, undisturbed
by the tick and groan
of housepipes veining
the overhead I leave. Oh
let me see her light bring
back those stallion-feeders,
little red handfuls of joy! Look

how long I’ve slept, learning to walk
straight into a dawn-silvered web
where secret spiders spin
ceaseless as the seasons.
Above me ice takes each
room, I can hear feet
pacing fretful halls,
yet here I lift my face
and puff back all the silk
in the world. I hold every
core peeled on this slab.
My fingers claw the meat
of family stillness,
parting all the way to seeds.

Oh widows of the air,
fill me with your
cidery, useless lying,
those bladed hours
you fed me the dark
rotting dreams of your love.

Dave Smith, “Winesaps,” from The Roundhouse Voices: Selected and New Poems (New York: Harper & Row, 1985). Copyright © 1985 by Dave Smith. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
Source: The Roundhouse Voices: Selected and New Poems (1985)
More Poems by Dave Smith