These days the summer has begun to ease up, like a tide pulling back. Soon, harvest will sweep in, and the vineyards will be buzzing with hands picking and bins filling with fruit. The leaves will redden or turn golden and then fall off. The branches trimmed and thrown into burn piles.
We are left with only the bare-knuckled vines threading the hills until the rains come and spring throbs again.
It’s a cycle of life we hardly see each day, but when we do notice them, when we stop our busy lives for a second and look at them, sometimes they can help us better understand when tragedy strikes.
In “Touch It,” Robert Mezey uses this drastic landscape — the near dying vineyards, with their “leaves rippling in the early darkness” — to tell the story of discovering that “what we love most is dying.”
It’s a sonnet, a 14-line poem that progresses to a turn, or a sudden shift of perspective, in the last two lines. Mezey’s turn is different, though. Instead of just shifting our perspective, he pulls us directly into the poem to experience viscerally what he is talking about. In the last line, this pull becomes so powerful that he urges us, as readers of the poem, to reach out and “touch it.” This direct address makes his terrible tragedy become ours, too, and its effect is haunting.
Perhaps, the next time you drive out through the vineyard covered hills, this transformation will rise, cool as an evening fog.
Because even as the world is burning, as tragedies’ cold fingers dance upon your spine, you are not alone.
by Robert Mezey
Out on the bare grey roads, I pass
by vineyards withering toward winter,
cold magenta shapes and green fingers,
the leaves rippling in the early darkness.
Past the thinning orchard the fields
are on fire. A mountain of smoke
climbs the desolate wind, and at its roots
fire is eating dead grass with many small teeth.
When I get home, the evening sun
has narrowed to a filament. When it goes
and the dark falls like a hand on a tabletop,
I am told what we love most is dying.
The coldness of it is even on this page
at the edge of your fingernail. Touch it.
Iris Jamahl Dunkle is Sonoma County’s poet laureate. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.