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Kris Piepenburg

The Right One

Kris Piepenburg

Copyright © 2002 Kris Piepenburg. All Rights Reserved.  

The Right One

She nags him--

put your hat on--
go back to the car
and get your hat--

then turns my way--

he used to be a big man
had most of his stomach
removed if he gets a cold
it could kill him and I
don't know it could be
our last Christmas together
I just want to get the right

He returns, after a while,
puffing along, inflated jacket
and football team cap,
his wife asking us
at every promising stake,
sharply but patiently,

whaddya think of this one?

My arms deep in the boughs
of a balsam, knife at the taut
edge of the string, about to
cut through--they change their
mind. I wave my arms, talk
and sell--

no Canadian balsam this year, nope,
a few Douglas fir over there, though.
The Scotch are from Michigan and
Wisconsin, white and balsam are from
Wisconsin, too, Fraziers are from
the Carolinas. They're real nice
this year, nice and full, real nice,
hold their needles real well,
of course you're always going to
lose a few, no they don't spray
them with anything but they
shear 'em in the field
to get the Christmas tree shape

Our breath flashes out in cones
of smoke, little smoky cones,
their heads turn, our eyes dart,
theirs to mine, to a tree,
a Scotch (no!), a white pine,
they go see, they cover the lot,
row by row, compare for gaps
and holes, trunk thickness,
will it fit in the stand,
but calmly,
in the raw wind,
without effort,
as though they'd done it
this way all along,
respected themselves,
each task,
each other.

I'm not going in to get warm.
I stamp the needle-covered ground,
the icy mud and gravel,
frayed pieces of old
rope. I swing my arms, tighten
the hood, wipe my eyes,
watch the whipping lines
of light bulbs and the clock
at the bank across the street,
and drift, remembering
the summers working here,
how after 3:30 the numbers pass
more quickly, you wind down,
sweep up, a broom against carrot
fronds, limp in the dust,
scrape of a pan. Then, six o'clock,
the boys at the awning ropes,
eager to get out, shutting out
the last cars, Bob holding out
corn through a dim gap
to some Mexican men, his son
at the last rope, ready to
bring it down--

the knife slits through, the tree
tips over, I grip the trunk,
lift and grunt to their quick words
about the warming house,
and through the forest,
they are gone--

it's a small balsam for their last one
together, thirty four dollars. I thank them
now, tie it down on top, and wave
them on. Bundled up, buckled in,
they drive away, smiling and talking
together, making vapor in the car.

Copyright © 2002 Kris Piepenburg. All Rights Reserved.