Santa Cruz County Fair

photo by author

I

The sweet smell of short ribs
smacked sizzling on the grill
floats on the smoky air.
Screams and laughter
from the tilt a whirl
pulse against my skin.

A man with a guitar
stands by his gleaming pony.
His voice twangs
with a sound bright like
his white suit and hat
shining in the midday heat
the whole getup makes you say
look at that dude.

Look at that dude!
He glows with the energy of work
competing with crowds and corndogs
sweat drips from his temple
his pony is patient, standing
so still, with a back leg bent for relief.

At his feet are two boys
one wears a black cowboy hat
his mouth is little round O!
The singing guitar smiles at him
he is inside the music
behind the bristling white mustache
rising out and away
over plastic flags
that shiver and snap
in the sunshine air.

II

Dahlias debut like debutantes
a radio flyer overflows with daisies
and flat on a folding table
a double belt opens to reveal
pliers, scissors, shears, tools
taken up by a man with sure hands
who leans and looks at a bonsai.

This little tree is time made visible,
sacrificing bits and pieces of itself
to skilled and graceful hands
for centuries, in the name of beauty.

Two boys with camo hats
and socks and crocs
stand spellbound,
their little bodies
lean and tilt in unison
as the master craftsman
snips and ties the shrub
into submission.

III

A small girl points,
her saucer eyes brought on by a
huge chalky white chicken.
It is the most impressive hen
we’ve ever seen, all of us agree
strangers and families alike.

She sits at the head of a row of birds
who cluck with submission
at her ribbons, her sleek feathered breast.

In her eyes I see the sad glory shared
by only the finest specimens, those
who embody perfection.
She knows that she, and all this fluttering beauty,
may still die by the farmer’s hand someday.

IV

In the sunshine air
a contraption with hose-arms
and a steel reserve
starts with the kind of bang
reserved for firecrackers and car exhaust.
While most folks jump
and move a discreet distance away
from the rattling, sputtering
certainly unreliable monster
an ancient fellow
bent nearly double on his cane
in a plaid shirt and overalls
forever creased with dirt and grease
makes a beeline
as natural as molasses
to the clamoring machine.

His eyes are a child’s memory
of a barn that didn’t burn
or crops that were salvaged
by a steam-powered pump.

I think about the giant thresher
and how it must have consumed
more than just grain, how men
lost hands and fingers and worse
sweating over an implement
the size of a small apartment
until it creaked and groaned
its final grinding breath
and submitted to the shelter of this barn
with the memory of bright wheat
and the smell of iron and earth.

V

The giant pumpkins swell
like misplaced ottomans among the
sweetie pies and jack-be-littles.
I marvel that these misshapen gourds
are tended with such fervent love.

A tall man leans in
to conspire with my husband,
this is the best part, he says
this and the smell of apples
like being a kid again.
A quiet blanket of nostalgia
envelops us, we sense
the promises renewed
as each new crop is sown.

The sweetness
of these apples
is the heart of labor.
It is the urge
to till the fertile soil of our soul
until we bear some fruit
worthy of submission.