He stands watching birds circle
over the hills beyond the fence.
Behind him, she sits in wicker
listening to ice crack
in the pitcher of drinks.
She sees the patio-edge grasses,
black as the sun turns amber.
They need—what?—perhaps potash.
She turns her head towards
a rustling from the trees. He is
saying something she can't hear.
The birds are dark faces rising,
then falling on invisible currents
against the gold hills, the purplish
sky. She strikes a wisp of hair
from her forehead. The leaves shimmer like fishes.
She takes up her newspapers again,
her scissors glint in the last light.
She had been cutting news
to send to the daughter, stories of town:
the church expansion, the council
meetings, who has moved.
She writes in a note that
yesterday they had a dinner guest,
someone from the club,
and that today he went golfing.
He said that his score was
ninety. Or sixty. She can't remember.
She lifts the tumbler.
This fall she must change
the front garden, reseat
the boarder stones. Mulch.
The sudden cold snap last spring
turned the azaleas to lumps
the color of dirt. All the reds,
vibrant whites, variegated pinks,
returned to the earth. Their season
ended. She wonders if the plants live:
how brittle they look, like the
shrub of veins in a CAT scan.
She thinks of her mother
who worked in an airplane factory
during the Second World War.
The planes rolled down the runway,
disappeared into opaqueness,
into the dot of the sun.
She thinks of her grandmother
who crossed the plains in a wagon
to raise sheep in California,
the wool turned red from the skinning,
the flesh they fed upon.
In the darkening light she sees
the man outlined. He has turned
towards her. He is still talking.
In his hand, the glow
of the cigarette circles, arcs
a curved line collapsing
faster and faster, until it blurs,
congeals into the light
of the low sun: cinnabar, aniline,
magenta, into a dull terra cotta,
the color of dried blood.