The Beginnings of Sobriety


“Better, I say, to break sod as a farm hand
For some poor country man, on iron rations,
Than lord it over all the exhausted dead.”

-Achilles (The Odyssey. XI. 579-581)

Start with the mutual; blade and season and sweat
I know. I learned to break sod by breaking
the sod of men, loosing red springs to water
a fall’s harvest. In the first weeks I put whetstone
to the scythe and hoe, glinting their edges
to the moon’s arcing wound of light.
But my master, old Stephanos, sings his thumb
against the hoe’s edge and snorts waste of time.
We don’t slice the ground--we crack it. So I clear
the weeds, clutching and swinging, and find
boulders that winter tangled to the surface,
and roll them toward the fence. The hoe whistles
in my hands, and soil hides still darker soil, lush
with damp and root. But a cedar in the south
corner of the field—something about it bothers
me. Each day I earn my sleep, and the cedar
appears in dreams where I fight with the dead,
see the faces of my glory. Their bodies lie
under the tree, but I cannot tell the difference
between roots and arms, covered in blood.
When I return to the field wet with dew,
I examine the tree, looking for scars. I fought
no battles here, but here is everywhere
if the earth remembers, if the blood
has spread like roots. What if it remembers?
What of the grapes, the wine we will ask it to give?