Poet’s Corner with Susan Jefts: Look inward to the garden’s end

This month’s poem is by Deanna Shapiro from Charlotte. She has published two books — “Conversations at the Nursing Home: A Mother, A Daughter and Alzheimer’s” (2006) and “The Place You Live In: A Multigenerational Immigrant Story (2012) — in addition to a chapbook, “”On the Road with Lewis & Clark and Other Considerations” (2016). She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and her poems have appeared in The Aurorean, The Kenwood Review, and Blueline among others.
The Harvest
This is our harvest, my husband
reminds me. Let’s sit on the porch—
only a few warm days left.
He wants to take stock.
Is there anything we’ve left undone?
Once again I search the horizon
for lingering threads that might
embroider our lives.
But, no, all the colors are there.
In front of us—his eye-filling garden—
staunch sunflowers, wispy asparagus,
sumptuous raspberries, hardy greens,
browning corn stalks—framed by
the Adirondacks and setting sun,
moving ominously to the south,
magentas and purples streaking
the broad, comforting sky.
It is comfort we need—
as he disbelieves his coming birthday number,
as our energy ebbs slowly like a recanting sail,
as our losses pile up, friends and family.
We have entered a new realm,
but our field is still fertile
for tomorrow’s growth.
— Deanna Shapiro
There is a feeling of grace in this poem, and acceptance for what comes. The speaker knows at least some of the changes that are coming in her life and moves ahead anyway, even open heartedly, albeit with trepidation. She is open to finding out what this new territory might be like, even if it does not look like yesterday’s.
There is a sense of comfort in that some of the old and familiar things — the asparagus and greens, the sunflowers and raspberries, the Adirondack sunsets — continue in her and her husband’s lives as they age and move into a new phase of life. But there is also a sense of uncertainty and disquiet, even as they sit in the peaceful familiar setting of the porch. Even as they enjoy the harvests of their full gardens and lives. We are brought in closer to this sense of unease when the poem “turns” on the short abrupt line “It is comfort we need” and then re-emphasizes this with the unexpected rhyme of “need” with “believes.” We are suddenly in a different place, but not without the grace the poem started with.
This feels like an in between place to me, both in the poem and in the speaker’s life. So much richness can be found in these liminal places, and sometimes wisdom. We as readers are invited to pause as the speaker does and watch the sail recant, a syntax I like. We’re left to wonder just what it is doing. It’s not necessarily dropping, it is not rolling up. It is withdrawing a bit; it is reconsidering.
Autumn is a time for reconsidering, for pausing to take stock of what we’ve grown over the spring and summer, what we’ve accomplished, and what we’ve lost. This poem does this with elegant and rich language that invites us to feel what it is like for the two people in the poem, and to consider doing the same. To make room in our inner and outer landscapes for what else might come.
Susan Jefts is a poet living in Cornwall. She teaches college level writing, facilitates workshops, and publishes her work in journals throughout the country. She will offer a workshop series that uses poems (often by Mary Oliver) as a vehicle for exploring autumn themes in our lives beginning Nov. 7. For more info, visit the workshops page of her website, ManyRiversLifeGuidance.com, or email her at [email protected].

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