If These Are My Fingers

Before my father returned from the Azores at the end of the Second World War, his father purchased eighty acres of farmland just outside Dinuba, about two miles northeast of their forty-acre home place. There was a dilapidated house and barn on the south side of the property. A quarter of a mile away on the north side, there was a tired Alicante vineyard someone had planted around the turn of the century. No attempt had been made to level the ground. Johnson grass grew everywhere in great mounds. My grandfather knew the property, having driven by it countless times over the years, penniless and proud. The weeds bore testimony to the soil�s vigor.

After the papers were signed, the first thing my grandfather must have done was to turn over a shovelful of the heavy brown earth, pick some of it up with his hands, hold it under his nose, and inhale. And in that deep breath, he must have thought of his three sons, one of them dead in the war, the other two soon to arrive home. I can only imagine that moment � and imagining weep, and in my nostrils the spirit of earth remember, clay to clay, dust to dust, sun-upon-arms, defined by loneliness angry and proud � and then another shovelful, and another and another, until in madness all his sorrow lay buried, only to rise up again in the form of miraculous change, watched over by brooding mountains themselves the offspring of colossal upheaval.

Only after this ceremony could my grandfather have begun his work of taming the land. Then my father joined him. What was his first moment there like? He never said. Like a fool, I never thought to ask.

In 1946, my father and grandfather planted grapes � varieties for raisins, table, and wine. After several months of painful silence, my surviving uncle left the farm and returned to his job as a violinist with the symphony in San Francisco, which he had begun before the war at the age of eighteen. For him, silence and the bloody images of war slowly gave way to music. Back in San Francisco, when he first put bow to strings, I imagine his troubled spirit whispered to his bones,

If these are my fingers
and these are my ears,
then I must really be at home

Home. I�ve been there once or twice myself and never left, and yet while I was there I was always gone. I�m there again now in the vessel of this quickly evaporating hour, pushing my shovel deep into the soil.

October 13, 2005

Previous Entry     Next Entry     Return to Songs and Letters     About the Author

Many of the poems on this site are available in print editions.
Main Page
Author�s Note
A Listening Thing
Among the Living
No Time to Cut My Hair
One Hand Clapping
Songs and Letters
Collected Poems
Early Short Stories
Armenian Translations
Cosmopsis Print Editions
News and Reviews
Highly Recommended
Let�s Eat
Favorite Books & Authors
Useless Information
E-mail & Parting Thoughts

Flippantly Answered Questions

Top of Page