Hardwood Autumn

by Allen M. Weber
Muse Motel
Second Place (tie), January 2012
Judged by John Timpane

Abiding more when out of doors (or well into his drink),
Big Mike takes the better part of a day to harvest half
a dozen rows. His John Deere stops near the yellow-leafed copse,

where at ten years old they buried hickory nuts in loam—
he and that pretty neighbor who, at sixteen, married quick
some blue-eyed boy whose daddy owned a Chevy dealership.

Mike spies his Angie yanking boxers from the line, clothespins
tumbling to the grass. Tonight he’ll face reprisal meatloaf,
without complaint—or salt. He’ll share with her the phantom deer:

each fall, they graze the edge of harrowed fields, white tails like flags
as they bound away. Won’t be a lie. Shoulda seen ‘em, Ang.
Dove into them woods like swimmers plumb a bottomless pool.

"Hardwood Autumn" is as American a poem as can be imagined, straightforward yet exquisitely chosen, until you couldn't or wouldn't want to change the position of a single word. Such clarity of tale, such myth in particular, hard lives. We watch people working, lives troubled and contracting, feel the resonance of what isn't told, and meanwhile the wide-open calls, the world we work on, the resisting world that works on us. Beautiful use is made of the stanzas especially, three lines apiece in long lines of from nine to 13 words, keeping the sense of compact expansion, in pace, in language, and in content, in what is told and noticed. "Mike spies his Angie yanking boxers from the line, clothespins" is a fabulous line to read aloud, humble words just singing aloud. The next two lines are heartbreaking: "tumbling to the grass. Tonight he'll face reprisal meatloaf,/without complaint -- or salt. He'll share with her the phantom deer:" Even though these lives are hard and not special, the poem works up to a moment of sheer lyric, when Mike explains to Angie what the fleeing whitetailed deer looked like. It's all the poetry they have in the world. Beautifully turned. ---John Timpane