October: "The old eyes"
In these cold mornings the alders can not hold their leaves,
But in the stained pond-water drop them, broad and cold.
Days ago the willows yellowed the river’s edge.
The river-breaks are stuck full of gray wild seed.
Dry and without the late hunger is every weed.
The latest-bearing tree’s fruit is under roof;
Nothing we value is left, nothing is left
Except the garden Eusebia planted as she grew old.
Under the trees of her orchard the tall marigolds,
Past their best, are grown dark yellow with rain:
Half-wild stalks, that gave this woman much pride and much pain
To thin and keep in order.
It has rained, and turned cold.
No one comes along the river or the breaks;
No foot has changed the color of this tall grass.
About her house, big rose-hips ripen, partly gray.
Who sits in the leaves there—the old eyes, and the flesh fallen?
Eusebia Owen is come again, this chilly day:
A ghost comes, and grieves at last because she is old.
The water of dead leaves, which the fruit trees
Shed upon her dress, is not cold; there’s no fear now, though
Hard waves in the river gather and pace to the wind;
There’s no pleasure in marigold petals upon her face.
She grieves, and says: “So many years I let go,
Working hard, and was content to think that love
Would surely return; but the dead go all alone.”
It is so: the years during which this woman lived
Were divided—so many for love, so many following
For work; and at last, let them be busy with flowers.
Dusty summers, long harvests, awhile to rest; but in the cold days
Eusebia gathered tree-cotton to weave cloth upon,
Worked with her garden, and would not fold her hands.
This woman was not idle until she died.
There’s tree-cotton, and cold days another year
In which all her use is departed. This sad ghost
That cries for love again, even the spirit is old.
The hair which hangs against the dry breast is gray.
The old dark dress is worn thin; and, wet and cold,
She who wears it would enjoy love again, would lie
In childbed over again.
When I was her friend
I thought she had been content: and see the gray hair
Heavy and stained with water! Once she was vain,
And now leaves stick upon her dress and her arms.
Now she has left secrecy, and I am ashamed
That we were less friends than ever I had dreamed.
H.L. Davis (1894-1960)
from Poetry, June 1920
[Poem is in the public domain in Canada and the United States]