Autumn Penance

…if I had closed my mouth and opened my eyes….
--James Taylor (That Lonesome Road)
Pudding Magazine #65

My truck jostles down the rutted road.
I drag a cigarette deep into the threshold
of my chest as Prairie Home Companion ebbs in and out
of radio static. At twilight, countryside takes on
an animal tone, razorback curves, red-eyed moon prowls
along aged orchards, puckered apples, fumes of fermented ground.
Decades ago my father’s orchards spread out like a lady’s fingers
to the river beds: gala, ambrosia, topaz, Northern spy.
The other boys and I bobbed apples down those streams,
prodded their jeweled bodies with branches,
once finding a drowned heron tangled in line.
All autumn long, my father and I rolled
stem from spur, truck bed heaped with tart gold.
My ears rang from each of his blows
for bruised apple, fumbled fruit.
At season’s end my father would hoist me up
onto the back of the old plow horse
and lead us among the trees.
I clenched its mane, stifling laughter
as my shoulders bumped graying apples.
This past August my father and I plucked Granny Smith,
his hands freckled with age. He offered me a slice
of apple on a knife blade, its flesh,
pale as a communion wafer.
Tonight, Garrison Keillor’s Seventh Avenue Choir croons
as farmhouses blacken in the rearview mirror,
smoke pools in the ashtray.
The sky’s tired husk splits open,
revealing seeds of light.

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The Schuylkill Valley Journal publishes poetry, short stories and critical essays. Both the SVJ and SVJ LIT come out twice a year, in the spring and in the fall.
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