The Give in InchesEven 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.
AbundanceThe 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
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.