Jeffrey Harrison

THINNING THE SPRUCES
May 8, 2015 Harrison Jeffrey

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’s sixth book of poetry, Between Lakes, will be published by Four Way Books in September 2020. His previous book, Into Daylight, won the Dorset Prize and was published by Tupelo Press in 2014, and Incomplete Knowledge (Four Way, 2006) was a runner-up for the Poets’ Prize. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the NEA, among other honors. His poems have appeared widely in magazines and journals, as well as in Best American Poetry, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, and other anthologies, and been featured regularly on The Writer’s Almanac, American Life in Poetry, Poetry Daily, and other online or media venues.