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A Grammar

Harold Rhenisch
From:   Dancing With My Daughter, 1993

1909. Keremeos.
The first ranches are broken up
into mortgages on hard terms and orchards,
newly planted, that will not pay
before 1919. Irrigation flumes run dry
with bad engineering and the strain of heat
this land no longer knows.
The sage lies withered on the hills.
It is the old story: Kelowna, Peachland, Summerland:
lots sold on the bottom of Okanagan lake —
the whole lake bottom neatly drawn up
and sold — sight unseen — to prairie men, new Canadians,
as an escape from cold and a way of life that never was.

All the old varieties are gone: Snow, Wolf River,
Belle de Boskoop, Maiden's Blush, Cox Orange,
that got to England, and home, no better than pig-fodder,
and nearly ruined the dream:
Victuals and Drink, Winter Banana, Raspberry Sweet:
all gone, all useless to this land:
flavourless apples, soft punk:
Northern Spy, American Mother, Golden Russett —
that could not bear the heat
and grew tough-skinned: abandoned, and men with them,
in favour of Spartan
(Macintosh X Newtown, Summerland Research Station, 1922),
and Red Delicious (orig. Hawkeye,
Starks Bros. Nurseries, St. Louis Missouri, 1890's) — not dreams,
but the harsh reality of industry
without market: export, production, wealth: a grammar.

Give those first farmers their due:
I've picked New York Macs
off a tree planted in 1909,
and though I do not wish
to glorify a deadly foolish past,
green as two day old hay, they had a flavour
and the scent of earth —
a huge, half-dead snag of a tree —
30 trees to the acre, to last a lifetime,
unlike the Macspurs I picked earlier in the day,
95% red, 95% Fancy or Better,
money hanging on the trees,
bland and watery,
picked from the ground,
850 trees to the acre,
on rented land, to last ten years —
realities of the production of a product
in oversupply, 1981, East Kelowna —
the product is dreams.

It was called building a country,
and building a life:

we cannot build these things now
except by accident;
that first luxury is gone:
there is no wealth
but what we draw from this soil,
no families in England paying to get us out
from underfoot: we are gone,
lost to the far side of the world:
our wealth is in this soil —
and whether in the trading of dreams
for dollars or for dreams,
the choices are clear.

Harold Rhenisch's works copyright © to the author.

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