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Gathering The Harvest
by Mary Jo Balistreri

Up and down the kettles and moraines,
we hike in the unexpected clarity
of an autumn-calm afternoon. This rolling land
left behind by glaciers is damp from days of rain,
but today it brightens with warmth. Wind ripples
the tall grasses, carries tufts of silky milkweed,
and the vanilla scent of crushed asters.

We picnic on a knoll overlooking the river
that wears its skin like a party dress
aglow with glistening beads. It curves like hips
as it moves sinuously around the bends.
Clusters of berries glisten in the bushes.

A black cloud of starlings passes over,
and I tell the story of Mozart’s pet starling.
How the maestro heard beautiful music
in its whistles and screeches
and added a line to his G Major piano sonata,
a line transposed from the bird’s song.

Hoards of grasshoppers rise in another dark cloud
through the landscape of time. A memory travels
from the South Dakota plains:
            fields of ripening wheat, a darkening sky,
            the falling locusts. Aunts, uncles, all gathered
            in our grandparents home, Whispering Hope
            ascending from the wheezing pedals
            of the pump organ. And Dad’s sweet tenor,
            clear and true above the other voices, all rising
            like prayers of propitiation.

Your fingertips move lightly over my face as I linger,
suspended between here and there,
the heartbeats of all the living and dead,
drumming within me.

We look now over the distance we’ve come,
layer upon layer of golden-green hills
airbrushed to ever softer hues in the distance.
We scoop them up into the net of memory,
winding back upon itself, moving forward.


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