She wipes her hands on her apron
before opening the screen door
to greet the unexpected visitor,
smiling through the cool dimness of the porch
as if it had been years since their last encounter,
and perhaps it has. The loud tick
of the upright clock and the smell of old wood
follow her down the hall to the kitchen,
pulling up a chair at the table
in the midst of all the other smells,
each in its own place on shelf or countertop.
The room is cloudy from a pan of fruit
steaming on the stove, and she hums
to herself while she completes her tasks.

The heat compels a change of venue,
and the old dialogue is adjourned
to resume on the back porch glider,
with the flitter and whir of grasshoppers
in the fierce brightness beyond the screen.
Throughout the long afternoon
the lighter-fluid fragrance of sun-heated pines
drifts down the slope to cover the house
while shadows wheel and lengthen in the yard.

The conversation covers a wide landscape,
murmuring down valleys and climbing the steep slopes,
discovering a surprise at every crossroads.
Like her interlocutor, she knows
an obscure word for the apprehension
of the entire landscape in a single instant.

At sunset, as the evening gathers,
casual thunderheads obtrude themselves
upwards into the red glow, and the wind
thrums through the empty clothesline.
There, at dusk, color returns to the chicory
and the blackeyed susans along the fencerow.

Recalling these things helps bring to mind
other matters, such as how to find the route
down the ravine while the sun is still in the sky,
remembering to turn left at the old stump,
and the name of her favorite flower.
If you see her, please ask her how small it has to be
before “loves me, loves me not” has no meaning.

August 18, 2000

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