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Tobi Alfier

Planting Level

When they came to visit, Dad worked

his middle-aged sons hard,

all day. Ninety one years

allowed him this privilege,

a yard the size of a small town

earned him this right.


The boys tilled miles of uneven grass,

dug post holes, strung wire,

flung shit into rows for planting.

Dad went to every nursery in town

for herbs, flowers, tomatoes.


Every jarred spice in the wobbly

kitchen drawer was from decades past.

Can’t make pasta without basil,

so grow it fresh. No marinara

without tomatoes…


and honor your wife with Rose of Sharon

and poppies.


The sons—flecked with dirt

and bloodied calluses,

worn out for the first time

since high school football,

were collapsed in the showers,


water running sweaty,

reviving nothing.


Tools back in their appointed spots,

Dad watched the twilight ravel down

the day in his new garden, camp chair

solid on straight earth, hoarse from shouting orders,

the warm relief of Drambuie on ice.


He took stock of the new plants, the fence line,

the boundary. A nod for a job well done,

for what takes so long to measure.

The Bay from Paseo de Cotobro


I’m tired.

I walk the esplanade

in navy whites,

text my wife that I am well—


she worries enough,

cannot hear the exhaustion

through my fingers.

As it should be.


My eyes trace a ship

bound for Morocco.

I follow it to vanishing,

till it’s the ghost-grey

of a dirty moon.


Three nuns nod as they pass,

enter the whitewashed façade

of a bodega.


Their whispers keep me

entranced, their kind

profundity as they give thanks

for the small morsels

they are about to receive

holds me to the door

in frozen adoration.


The tiredness falls away.


Later tonight I will sleep like

a child after a bedtime story,

the amber wash of streetlights

hallowing my room.

planting level
bay from paseo
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