Evening Prayer in an Orange Grove

The rows are quiet now, the fruit small and green and hard. You remember bloom time, and how you promised to take a picture for your sister, who wanted to see you standing by the bee hives all in white, like a prophet not getting stung. But the days went by, and laziness prevailed. She hasn�t written since. She knows you that well. Yet next year she�ll ask again, hoping to be fooled. That�s what makes her a poet, you guess. It�s how she sees the world � the way it should be, not the way it is. The way it will be someday.

As you walk along, you startle a pair of quail. The tree beside you erupts with a mad flutter as the birds escape into the dusk. You�ve seen it happen a hundred times, but for most of a minute your heart pounds as if a primitive fear within you has been awakened. It is a haunting remembrance as sacred as fire. For a long time, you stand and listen. Darkness creeps against the hills. One by one, shadows are suspended as the earth exhales. Only then do you remember that you are alone, truly alone, in a way that no one can touch or reach.

You used to believe supper would be waiting for you when you got home, but now you�re not so sure. You believed your wife would be standing at the stove, with your first child on her hip. You believed your father�s old radio would be on the counter, next to the salt and pepper and this month�s bills. They were there when you bravely went outside to have a look around. They were there that morning. You believed in the warm bed you shared, and in the sound of water running in the sink. Yet now you wonder if it�s real � if you are real.

You were restless, so you went outside. You could have read the paper or dozed in your chair. You might have set the table or folded clothes. But the baby was asleep and your wife was talking on the phone, so you pulled on your shoes, put on your hat, and gave the screen door a little shove. You glanced inside the barn, at the spare pieces of equipment scattered on the floor, at the coils of rotten rope hanging on the wall. Everything was where it should be, down to the last nut and bolt and spider. The tractor smelled like oil.

There was nothing to do there, so you drifted on. There was nothing each and every way you turned, that once you�d started, you wouldn�t feel guilty about when you set the work aside. The day was done. It was too late to begin again. You told yourself tomorrow would be soon enough, but you didn�t hear the words. Even the dog didn�t follow you. He chewed a bone instead. Sitting by the flowers in the yard, he looked like a picture in a magazine, or a goofy child with arthritis. He stopped to scratch behind his ear, then gave up on the effort.

You entered the grove as if it were a church. Sometimes, even in bright daylight, it felt that way. But it was never this quiet before, never this eternal. When you�re here, you remember all sorts of things. You remember your father, dead and gone, and your mother visiting with her friends. It was not what either asked for, but what was given in the end. Your sister says it best: their love was a short love, but one that still endures. Her words are like a prayer. They rise up and touch the sky, then turn to dew by morning. Before you go, you take off your hat.

April 12, 2005

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Also by William Michaelian

Winter Poems

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-0-4
52 pages. Paper.
Another Song I Know
ISBN: 978-0-9796599-1-1
80 pages. Paper.
Cosmopsis Books
San Francisco

Signed copies available

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