When I visited as a boy, too young for chores,
a pair of maples flared before the farmhouse.
My grandfather made me a swing, dangling
rope from stout branches. I hurtled
between them high as I could, pumping
out half the day while my mind daydreamed
the joy of no school, no camp, no blocks
of other children fighting childhood’s wars.
With the old people I listened to radio news
of Japanese in Nanking, Madrid on fire,
Hitler’s brownshirts heiling. The hurricane
of 1938 ripped down the older maple.

When I was twelve and could work the fields,
my grandfather and I, with Riley the horse,
took four days to clear the acres of hay
from the fields on both sides of the house.
With a scythe I trimmed the uncut grass
around boulders and trees, by stone walls,
and raked every blade to one of Riley’s piles.
My grandfather pitched hay onto the wagon
where I climbed to load it, fitting it tight.
We left the fields behind as neat as lawns.
When I moved back to the house at forty,
a neighbor’s machine took alfalfa down
in an afternoon. Next morning, engines
with huge claws grappled round green bales
onto trucks, leaving loose hay scattered
and grass standing at the field’s margin.

A solitary maple still rises. Seventy years
after my grandfather hung the swing,
maple branches snap from the old tree.
I tear out dead limbs for next year’s sake,
fearing the wind and ice storms of winter,
fearing broken trees, cities, and hipbones.

Donald Hall | The Back Chamber, 2011

JO Barrios | Autumn in Austin, 2020