M. Christine Benner Dixon lives, writes, and grows things in Pittsburgh, PA. Working in both prose and poetry, her writing has appeared in Vastarien: A Literary Journal, HeartWood Literary Magazine, pacificREVIEW: A West Coast Arts Review Annual, Paperbark Literary Magazine, Tiny Seed Literary Journal, American Literary Realism, and DreamSeeker Magazine.
The Fruit Trees
The apples carry the dusty mildew of a wet summer,
but the fruit is tangy sweet, eaten in a sideways bite
from the open blade of Dad’s pocketknife. He checks
the grass for fallen apples, pulls the limbs down to
search for softening pears. He observes the trees and
their summer labor—and does not interfere except to
scorch off tent moths, burning their canopies to black,
Mom grows sentimental about the moths as she watches him
put a match to white silk. The summer they were married,
New England’s trees were ghosted over, the sound of
chewing larvae drowning out the hush of June-still branches.
And though she does not speak to save these Pennsylvania moths,
she drifts back to Bethany, Connecticut, and the summer of ’71—
she in a dress of lace as fine as that the trees wore and hers, too,
stitched by hand, its high collar a shadow of her grandmother’s gown.
One must be careful in this part of the yard because the yellow jackets
search the ground, too, and burrow into the apples through sweet brown
bruises. They make themselves drunk to violence on the heart of rotting fruit.
One must roll the apples carefully, looking for insect-perfect holes before carrying
them off to Dad to be sliced and eaten sideways in the cool shade of a wet summer.
two friends and I rattle the door
of the old gristmill.
On summer Saturdays,
when the air has drawn moisture from
the stream and is sagging
under the weight,
they open the building
and let people in to
stand before the old millworks,
but it is March—
the water is green
and deep and
fast over the dam. No one
is seeking damp shadows,
no one (except us)
is knocking on the door of the past
There is a trickle of water
through the sluice
(my friend tells me its name),
though the gate is down. It is enough
to weave cold algae blankets
on the stone floor of the channel.
It is the illusion of comfort—
The mill is silent and
unproductive, but the
arrogance of what used to be
names this whole stretch of
river and woods for
the grinding of corn
and buckwheat between
This was a good idea,
once: build a mill by a
constant stream. Cut off
a strip of water to
turn the wheels; charge the townsfolk
to cross a red clad bridge
(and make wishes
in its belly). It would be
a good idea now but for
the high cost of wishing.
Downstream a bit,
by a heaped foundation,
two discarded millstones
lean against gravity. They wait
in hard denial of obsolescence,
as slowly as they can.
Fire, Woven Things, and Whatever’s Next
Fire, they say, set the course of human development
alight. It became a flaming sword in the backward
way—no returning by that path.
Now we gawk through glass at the big-bellied
gorillas who must eat and eat and eat all day,
fermenting that stuff in their guts for hours
because they have not mastered fire. Just
think what cooking would do for the gorilla!
(To say nothing of combustion engines or
gunpowder. We keep a few strides ahead.)
But weaving, I think, gets undersold—how we took
all the wild strands and trapped them one under the
other—how our linear brains learned to intersect—how
we wrapped ourselves in something other than
the skin of another animal with its hair still on and
What a miracle a net is! The water or the
air dimples at its thin cords, but the current
sweeps on, less the debris of this bewildering
world. Let the net-maker sort it, ask its name,
guess its purpose.
We should discover cautiously, though.
Because we cannot unlearn. The path back is fiery,
yes, and netted, too. Our bodies, plunging forward
from the fire became cold, our minds from their nets,
empty. Our next achievement may be harder to bear.
There are rumored to be dormant coal mines under this neighborhood. Imagine
that. Acid darkness and sweet, flammable dust. Rather than cutting down a fat
oak, nicked axe and shoulders sore, to dry it in crisscross stacks, those people
sent their sons into the hillside with pick and shovel to return with blackened hands.
It must have seemed like a miracle, at first, which turned these hills into Hell’s portrait.
The earth turns up bitumous coal at the kick of a toe. It must have felt like divinest grace,
which drew the hordes as hungry as the infinite bounty of God. The known must be taken. The named must be owned. The natural law.
But the hollows of desire will collapse—this is a law, too. Somewhere in the
hills under my basement pantry, a vacancy will fill itself someday and crack
the spine of my house. We learn so late how inheritance works.
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