When glacial bogs blush with berries
it’ll be a hard winter, folks say.

He is cutting down the dead pine near the cabin,
beetle-killed by drought last summer.
His chainsaw knows the hearth’s width
without measuring.

I went to the orchard on Route 5,
bought peaches for canning.
The kitchen smells of sweetness —
furry skins sloughed off with blanching,
floor juice-sticky.

He comes in for lunch,
fills the room with flannel and sawdust.
“A lot of work,” he says.
“Yes,” I answer.
We eat warmed over stew.
He cleans his plate with bread crust and pushes back his chair.
“Back at it,” he mutters and opens the door.

A cold wind makes gooseflesh on my arms
as I set the pint jars of preserves
in steaming water to make them sterile.


– Sarah Russell
First published in The Houseboat
Reprinted in WAVES: A Confluence of Women’s Voices
For Poets United
Photo source






45 thoughts on “Sustenance

  1. Wow, this is superb Sarah, the stunning image the beautiful words, I love the lines; “His chainsaw knows the hearth’s width without measuring.” A great write. Thanks for sharing it with us.


  2. love how the two labourers come together over a meal and then return to their work against the backdrop of harvest and death


      1. Thanks, Charley. One of my favorite things to do when I lived in Colorado. Palisade peaches are wonderful. We’d make the 50 miles trek to the orchard, and then spend all the next day canning. Great memories!


  3. I think I went to a dark place with your last stanza. Wondered it the narrator is referring to a sterile chill in the relationship. I suspect that was not your intention, but I’m tired today. That makes me a little negative. Regardless, I enjoyed your poem, the scene is foreign to me but you made it real.


  4. So good, the parallel work and his gruff silence- foreshadowed in your opening line – the hard winter coming – and echoed in the chill of your last stanza. A complete world in so few lines. Bravo.


    1. Thanks, Colleen. And thanks for the tip. I didn’t put in my new website, and the old url does take you to the pill site. Try I’ll try to get into Google and change it. Wish me luck…


  5. Almost feels like an autumn still-life, even as nothing is ever really still. Love the poetic dual labors of love here.


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