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Outside the Orchard


ISSUE:  Autumn 1989
At dinner I asked for a newspaper.
(A poem of mine, someone had said,
might be printed there.) It was,
inexplicably, on page one,
not buried beside the changes
in school lunch menus. Nothing
but the poem was on the front page—
of a paper already handed out
to 1000 people I didn’t know.

I walked out into the evening, glad
the people I passed were strangers.
I didn’t want to be with anyone like myself,
but alone with someone great,
someone I might understand through study
and silence, such as Emily Dickinson,
were it possible to approach her
renaming the world by herself
in her Amherst orchard.

I walked to a drift of pines at a nearby lake,
apart from people and light,
to feel the wind I have always listened to
move across the landscape
heading for open fields and space.

Only a few words I’ve heard or read
command attention not from dread but love,
as if they deserved to be carried by the wind.
Like an owl’s primary feathers sculpting the air
they make the wind serve their purpose.
But most words, surely most of mine,
don’t travel far.

When I read my poems to an audience
their applause touched me, momentarily stirred
the air. But I thought of Emily
in her orchard at dusk, not to pick
the Jonathans or Winesaps, but to smell
and feel their skins at that hour.
With a hint of a sidelong glance from her
within my mind, I left the hall and went outside
to the night air, to my life again.

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