In The Night Orchard
I know, because Paul has told me
a hundred times, that the deer
gliding tonight through tangleweed
and trashwood, then bounding across
Mount Atlas Road, are after his pears.
And who could blame them?
On the threshold of autumn, the Asian
imports, more amazing than any Seckle
or indigenous apple, start to ripen.
Then a passing crow will peck one open.
That's when the whitetails who bed
and gather beyond Matson's pasture
will catch the scent and begin to stir.
It's a dry time, and they go slowly mad
for sweetness. No fence can stop them.
The farmers like Paul will admit
it starts in hunger, but how suddenly
need goes to frenzy and sheer plunder.
When the blush-gold windfalls are gone
and the low boughs are stripped
of anything resembling bounty, bucks
will rise on their hind legs and clamber
up the trunks. Last week Cecil Emore
found one strangled in a fork,
his twisted antlers tangled as if
some hunter had hung him there
to cure. We all remember what it's like,
this driven season, this delirium
for something not yet given a name,
but the world turns us practical, tames
us to yearn for milder pleasures.
For Augustine, it was actual pears
that brought him out of the shadows
and over a wall, for Eve, the secret
inside what we now say was an apple.
Others have given up safety for less,
and I wonder, catching an eight-point
buck outlined on the ridge amid spruce,
if it's this moonstruck nature that renders
the ruminants beautiful, or if we stalk
them out of envy, not for the grace
of their gliding, but for the unadorned
instinct that draws them after dark
into trespass and the need to ruin
the sweetest thing they've ever known.
"In The Night Orchard" by R. T. Smith, from Brightwood.© Louisiana State University Press, 2004. Beautiful painting by Melody Lea Lamb.