Two Poems – Tonya Lailey

The Give in Inches

Even after my dad numbers each end post
in white paint, we find ourselves by landmark.

                           It’s out by the stack of orange boxes.
                           Go about halfway, look for Harold’s bike.
                           Just past the Himrod.
                           By the old Chardonnay.

When we ditch the short ton for tonnes
my dad intones the metric “o” as if to add
the extra pounds, to remind us it means more.

At the butcher counter, my mom orders about
ham: about a half pound, no discussion,
no fuss. She gives and takes hours

on the farm payroll in a spiral notebook. Earth
shifts, settles, resettles, the old weigh scale needle
sticks. Row numbers fade. Rain doesn’t fall evenly

over acres, nor does the soil take up wet
the same all over, content varies in strata, wildly
in swaths, in veins north-west, east-south,
east-west, north-south. Heel-toe-heel-toe-
heel-toe-heel-toe my dad counts the ground
for fence posts – his foot measures more than

a foot in work boots. My parents sum
up the farm in 20 acres; the survey says
18.5. They never do agree on boundaries.

A bushel shrinks or swells depending
on who’s picking – the person paid piece
work, the pick-your-own picker, the proud

seller – my mother. My dad shows me
the space an inch makes with his thick
index finger and meaty work thumb.

It takes years for me to learn the flesh
doesn’t belong to the inch.


The pomace pile heaped
and we loaded on more
dry cake from the press
                                    that spread over the quack grass
                                    to the rototiller and forklift, to the front
                                    -end loader and into dirt tracks packed
                                    by the Case International. The pile radiated
                                    heat; grape skins reeked vinegar; seeds
                                    threw up wet wood dankness
                                    from the lowest layers. Rats
                                    assembled mischief, unafraid to meet.

The word on the farm was piles. Piles

             of berry moth, Japanese beetles, starlings,
             brush, grapes to pick, downy mildew, unpaid
             bills, buds dead-by-frost, thistles, loose
             wires, crooked end-posts, bull canes, leaf
             curl, suckers below the graft, powdery
             mildew, hail damage, crown gall, split
             trunks, drought stress, wood dead
             from winter.

Things that could never form a pile got piled, like

             rain, humidity, smoke, wind, heat, sun,
             the rot-stench in a row of broken-
             down Pinot Noir, too far gone to harvest.

She said piles, my mom, had piles to do.

I’d parse the laundry pile onto the line – bra, shirt, sock,

panty – pinch each wet piece to the wire,

feel lifted by the detergent’s fake freshness,

– that smell in human order –

and weight the empty

plastic basket with a rock,

so it couldn’t blow away.

Tonya Lailey is completing her MFA in creative writing at the University of British Columbia. She’s working on her first poetry manuscript based on her childhood farm life. Recently her poetry has appeared in FreeFall Magazine. She lives in Calgary with her two daughters, her cat Talou and a big old willow tree. Twitter: @laileyt

Banner Art: Memory/Field, a digital image by Robert Frede Kenter (c) 2022. Twitter: @frede_kenter.

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