Tim McNulty

Willow Withes

 

My grandfather used willow withes
cut from a backyard shade tree
to tie back his grapevines to their arbors—
leafy rows that bordered
the other crops sewn into his small,
hillside farm.

With a bundle of cut swaths tucked in his belt
he strode the rows like a swashbuckler,
whipping wands and binding unruly growth
into order. Following along
with my armload of cut willow limbs,
I could barely keep up.

I did better with strawberries.
scooching my butt down the dusty rows,
filling my grandmother’s big two-handled colander,
the taste of ripe berries erupting warmly
against my tongue.

Scooching, too, I could thin carrots
with the best of them,
grasping the lacy tops close to the soil
and tugging.
The small, fingerling carrots, rinsed
in the tublike yard sink,
crunched sweetly between my teeth.

Other days I gathered brown eggs
from the cloying henhouse,
or fed the rabbits in their shaded hutches,
or broke the ends off stringbeans
with Noni under the backyard willow,
her apron a brimming green horn-of-plenty.

Or watched plains of tomatoes ripening
on wire-mesh racks,
smoke from the summer kitchen redolent
in the fragrant air.

The green willow withes dried over summer
as the wine grapes thickened and set,
and by September, when all the family gathered
for harvest, their golden coils seemed
an organic part of the vines,

bound like memories, now
with the farm gone, shoring up the bounty
beneath yellowing leaves,
so it can be gathered,
and pressed and tasted.

Setting the glass down on the
white enamel table,
tartness waking the tongue.

 

“Willow Withes” will appear in Ascendance, forthcoming this fall from Pleasure Boat Studio.

 

Tim McNulty is a poet, essayist, and nature writer. He is the author of three poetry collections, Ascendance (Pleasure Boat Studio), In Blue Mountain Dusk (Broken Moon Press), and Pawtracks, (Copper Canyon Press), and eleven books on natural history.  Tim has received the Washington State Book Award and the National Outdoor Book Award.  He lives with his family in the foothills of Washington’s Olympic Mountains, where his is active in wilderness and conservation work.


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