Trimming Christmas Trees Above Lake Canandaigua, New York

An upright body takes a limit of blows.
     The sun in May should not be like this.
Deer flies as large as mud wasps circle my head.
     I climb the rock slope slicing each tree.
The machete throws off bright sprays of new growth.
     Fourth year since planting, these Scotch pines stand;
trunks upright or forked, they reel under my blade.
     I circle the trees hacking their shapes.
In the turpentine air and heat the flies bite.
     In my wake the cone shaped trees squat.
The machete swing falls heavier each blow.
     Air in May should be light, not dead like this;
lungs should flow out into it, not fight it back.
     The arms battle stroke by stroke upstream.
Deer flies flock to sweat like crows to dead meat.
     Behind me, below, wind bent orchards
are strewn with rose brambles, crumbled stone barns.
     Behind me, above, sun swings its slow
scimitar across the wind dead, cloud dead sky.
     Row after row, steep and rock bitten,
pine growth flies; I wield my blade like a cruel whip.
     When I stumble, the blade's rhythm pulls
me upright, egging and throbbing me forwards.
     Pain is the true deadener of pain.
Mindlessly I climb dense air up through deer flies.
     Sun at noon flattens the flat sky.
I slip towards spinning; the long lake wildly spins.
     Suddenly, air rushes past me;
Blow upon blow still striking, I gulp for it.
     The sun in May should not be like this.
My head claps the inside edge of a bell.

     Sitting slumped in vomit, I see blue;
the image of the far lake grows clearer.
     Canandaigua lies still once again.
My machete on the dirt is smeared with gum,
     blunt, its gleam of fresh whet slashed from it.
The gnats and deer flies hover over my rank vomit,
     swarming like they do over cow dung.
Neat rows of sprightly trees, new trimmed, surround me.
     Flung to ground, on all sides, are shorn branches.
The sun dredges across the platter flat sky.
     I stand to face it again and drink
from my thermos the lukewarm dregs of coffee.
     By dusk a fog will drift through the vineyards
purple and patchy like fluffy amoebae,
     deer will float onto blue meadows,
and the sun's own limit will sink into violet.
     The air's crispness will stun the valley.
Trimmed each May, in their sixth November cut, these
     Scotch pines will be sold in Rochester.
They have held earth back from gullies, built soil.
     I go up each day till labor yields
its own limit, and I store the machete,
     new whet, bright oil, wrapped in old flannel.
All limits fail. We crash through them. Air's rhythm
     on blood shall one day rattle; lungs fold.


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