Eight pick-up loads of red mulch later
he’s finally through, save for the crude cairn
of rocks he’s excavated at some cost to shovel head
and his slightly more frangible own
(tenderly shaded by a cowboy straw
which he doffs, now and then,
to my smothered mirth—Missy, he drawls,
come put your hands in dirt).
It’s all hard work, stoop
and heave through radiant dapples,
the poplar beside him casting its green sieve
of shadows across his back
and neck, not shade enough
to keep his neckerchief dry
(fastened bandana-fashion in a noose)
but, given the illusion
of breeze that moving leaves
creates, enough to make him
grateful. The landscape is beginning to resemble
Bushido bonsai, unminiaturized.
The six foot arms of juniper devise
a twisting, outflung, impenetrable maze, prickling
around it crippled center—
some car, we think, took the corner
fast, came crashing into it—
which he extricates with a pruning saw till all
the death-burnt limbs are gone.
What’s left is less a Japanese
retreat, though it is that too,
with its stone bench and pagoda lantern, than a pattern
I perceive in all his work,
wholeness lifted out of smash,
past injury consigned to past.
And kindness which defines him most, and
his not knowing this.