Harvest Time by Martin Willits Jr.

harvest time
By g emil reutter
Willitts brings us onto the farm in this collection offering insight into the Amish/Mennonite life style in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  He uses poetic imaging to reveal the harshness of field work, chopping wood, milking nameless cows. He writes of his quiet Grandfather and Grandmother. The title poem opens the collection that meanders through the seasons and as he accomplishes this he also meshes the farm with the lives of his grandparents who work the farm hard and in the end pass to the other side as the bank seize their assets. Willits worked the farm every spring into summer from the ages of 5-17. He tells us in this poem, I carry baskets of tomorrow/heavy as death. Willitts reveals the violence of nature in survival and the violence of man interacting with nature using domesticated animals until they have no use and then disposing of them. Not all is dark here as Willitts reveals the beauty of life in barns, fields, even Amish lovers.  In the poem, It’s All a Matter of Perspective, he himself watches as his girlfriend, ..ran away with the broom salesman.  He further tells us:
At seven, I never understood why Grandmother giggled
when Grandfather looked at her a certain way.
I believed it was because he puckered his lips
like he tasted lemon. Later, I found out what it meant.
My girlfriend made the same giggle when she ran off.
The poet tells the reader of Quiet:
When the world goes silent
after the crackle of birds landing on trees,
air seems to glow—
that moment of sadness
when nothing else happens,
time crawls into a small whimper,
a bantam rooster’s spurs
barely tic, tic, tic
on a grey, crushed-stone path.
Some people just need to disturb that silence.
Others want to escape the disturbance
like those birds swarming onto trees.
I just want that moment of solitude
emitting from apple blossom odors
in noiseless breeze.
Quiet is a beautiful poem with a freshness of images, time crawls into a small whimper…that moment of solitude/emitting from apple blossom odors/in noiseless breeze.
In the poem, Milking the Moment, the poet tells us:
Love takes the same slowness—
a body responds to evenness of hands,
anticipating the next light touch
until it feels fingers before they land,
gentle as dust. And if you lay your head
against a belly, cooing a soothing melody
the other person eases
into what will happen next.
This from an experience of milking a cow, a life lesson in handling other humans.
Willitts writes extensively of learning from his Grandfather in silence, no words, just nods and smiles as he learns the farm. He captures the beauty of this lesson in the poem, Silence Has Its Own Language:
There are days when I am still ten, following Grandfather
out the back door into the prayer of stars.
There are several ways to know silence—fishing forever
without a bite, your heart moving with a spring steam defrosting;
or mucking the barn, rake scratching wooden floors and straw;
or cat swishing its tail before striking: or goldenrod opening.
Grandfather barley spoke all summer. No need to talk. Words
Were wasted, when silent commands and nods worked well.
You can hear more if you listen intently— deer moving at dawn,
Inventing silence; or the stillness of heart and hush of breath.
More important, all of earth and stars and silence speak.
You can hear, like a dog ear’s perking, everything unsaid.
Harvest Time is an excellent read. Be sure to read intently as gentle metaphor and imagery blends with the harshness of farm life as Willitts captures rural Amish America.
You can find the book here: Harvest Time
g emil reutter is a writer of poems, stories and an occasional literary review. He can be found at: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/

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