THINNING THE SPRUCES
I’ve become ruthless with the spruces
that crowd the hillside between the cabins and the lake,
filling every available space and leaving no room
for the slower growing maples and birches.
I yank the little ones up by the roots
and get down on my knees to cut
the trunks of the larger ones with a handsaw.
Soon I’m covered with sweat, needles, and dirt,
and my wrists, between my cuffs and work gloves,
are flecked with blood. Anyone watching me
might think I hate the spruces, but I don’t.
They look cheerful, and I like the way,
after a storm, raindrops hang from the tips
of their bristly fingers. Now the cut trees lie
scattered over the hillside, like soldiers.
I begin to gather them up in great armfuls,
as many as I can hold, then carry them awkwardly
into the woods, and throw them down the gully.
I am stumbling with one of these unwieldy bundles,
hugging its prickly green mass to my chest
as if I were in love with it, when I hear
my father thank me. I heave the load
over the edge, and pause to think. Am I
still trying to please him, even in death?
I don’t know the answer, and keep going,
thinking, Would that necessarily be a bad thing?
and: This needs to be done, and I’m doing it.
“You have to do it every year,” he told me
last summer, his last one here. I answer now,
“I know. Otherwise they’ll take over.”
“—take over the world,” I hear him echo,
sounding a little paranoid, but I know he’s joking.
“The Green Menace,” I say. “They’ve infiltrated
the ecosystem and must be rooted out!”
After a pause, he says, “They breed like rabbits,”
and I point out that now we’re mixing metaphors.
And the conversation goes on in my head
as I keep working through the afternoon,
unable to stop myself (the same way he
did chores), sweating, my heart pounding,
struggling with the bundles, hugging them
then heaving them into the gully.
Jeffrey Harrison is the author of five full-length books of poetry—The Singing Underneath (1988), selected by James Merrill for the National Poetry Series, Signs of Arrival (1996), Feeding the Fire (2001), Incomplete Knowledge (2006), which was runner-up for the Poets’ Prize, and Into Daylight, published in 2014 by Tupelo Press as the winner of the Dorset Prize– as well as of The Names of Things: New and Selected Poems, published in 2006 by Waywiser Press in the U.K. A recipient of Guggenheim and NEA Fellowships, he has published poems in recent or forthcoming issues of AGNI, The New Republic, The Yale Review, The Hudson Review, The Kenyon Review, The Cincinnati Review, The Manhattan Review, and elsewhere.