Hillside

Bare is the hill we begin our work.
The sun rises, it’s brisk.
He wears sun-bleached jeans
Battered brown work boots
a jean shirt and hat.
He reminds me of his father.
 
I meet him at the crest.
 
“We’ll plant six.”
 
We begin positioning
our shovels, the buckets.
Bags of dirt line the hill’s edge.
I look down to the bottom.
The task feels daunting.
 
We use our shovels and picks
to help navigate our footing
along the incline.
We line up the trees
I look to him to begin.
 
I picture how he will recline
on his worn, brown chair
as he reflects on his day.
He will look to
the hillside.
He’ll know he did what he could.
 
“I’ll start digging.”
 
I watch him.
He uses the tools his
father shared with him.
Dirt caked on the handles
from decades of landscaping.
 
My father
tells me to fill the holes
to hammer in the stakes
to plant the bushes and trees
that soon will adorn his hillside.
 
I carefully observe his process.
His methods are intentional,
techniques from the old country.
 
I mimic the way he breaks ground
His heal on the shovel’s end
the hard dirt breaks.
We strike red clay
Pennsylvania’s bedrock.
 
The sun rises over my father’s land.
I hear him whistle as he works
sweat falls from his brow
his skin tan from a summer
spent planting.
He is his father’s son.
 
Breathlessly, I announce,
 
“We’re finished.”
 
Six trees planted and watered.
My stomach signals its hunger.
It’s noon
I climb to the top.
My thighs burn and ankles itch
from thorn scrapes and bug bites.
 
“Let’s go for 12.”
 
I feel anger rise within me.
He’s never done working.
I look at him
as he drinks water.
He assesses what’s left to finish.
 
I run inside.
Famished, I devour a banana,
some toast.
I consider retreating to my room.
He did say six, after all.
 
I reconsider
I look out the bay window
the one his chair rests beside.
 
He is digging a seventh hole.
I hear the radio play on the patio below.
Motown flows from the speakers.
He smiles as he catches me watching.
 
Resigned, I return to the hillside.
I ask him what’s next.
He tells me what to do.
I finish the job
the way he’s instructed.
 
It’s 3pm when we finish.
We sit under the deck
drinking fresh water.
The radio wanes behind
my father’s breathing;
his satisfaction.
 
“I’ll need to plant the front yard soon.”
 
I take him in
he is already out of this moment
and into the next.
 
Years from now
I will witness my father
sitting in his chair
reading.
He’ll look up once in a while.
He’ll look to the hillside.
 
I head inside to shower.
The sun reaches its peak.
I look out my bedroom window
and see my father.
He’s pushing a wheelbarrow.
 
It’s winter now,
I visit home and find him
sitting in his worn, brown recliner
reading the newspaper.
He smiles when he sees me.
I sit on the arm of the chair
I rest my hand on his shoulder.
 
“Remember when you helped me?”
 
We look over the hillside
 
“I thought you said just six.”
 
He smiles, knowingly
 
“You finished the job with me.”
 
He gazes over his hillside
the one we made our own.
 
We look at each other.
He knows I remember.
 
No longer bare
the trees are growing,
taking space.
Grass covers the land.
We look over the hillside.
He puts his arm around me.
 
I realize now what he sees
as he looks out the bay window.
The trees flourish
the leaves fall with the season’s mourning.
 
He sees us on our hillside.

 

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