Cold Press by John Jenkins
winner of the 2003 ArtsRush poetry prize
Noir skies above the Yarra Valley, thick rain
curtains and cold seams, then sun-shot.
A neat stud slides out to free steel jaws at gelid
dawn-start. This is how we put the wine
back into winter. A day (another day) upon the ridge
with the patch-work itinerants. More sheer
and smoky light is poking through the weave than
yesterday, when you wounded a riot of sleeping
cane and repaired its latency with structure.
The long mounded tillage is punctuated by posts
and the dumb dormancy of vines. The sap is falling
to a root mass below these chocolate acres,
curled roots, stiff hands, dull fingers in the earth.
Curt work to toss the curly cuttings anywhere,
rain weeping down our backs, in this mud-splattered
surgery, where vintage is asleep beneath the happy
splash and patter of weeds against your boots.
Elegance cannot be cultivated without us.
We strip excess from aisles of skeletons, leave
bone-arms in our wake. Main canes thrown wide,
twisted over wires, then end-tied with a clip.
Start to see the shape of things to come, when the
scribbly disarray of waste is deftly edited. Each plant
becomes a trunk, with two arms lashed to the fruiting wire
upholding ten short stubs, of three buds each,
poking up from the old wound-wood like blunt thumbs.
A tractor rolls down these rows, its whirring blades
held high to rubbish, the canes confetti in its wake,
followed by gun pruners, the grim gangs, with jobs
still to do, only just secure with their human edge.
Machine pruning is too crude for premium wine,
and the old hands sculpt endless hills of skinny
Christs from the vine mass, pull out moons-and-back
of tangled canes to make a topiary of daylight.
Crab slowly down these rows with me — tense against
your own bent back, in a sullen muscle-trance,
worming down the automatic aisles of day,
a slow stagger to the dark fugue of fatigue.
A simplifying landscape stands out like Granny’s
tooth between the cold, cross-hatched cordons.
Each vinous trunk a fist pushed up from dirt,
grasping at the light with new leaf and tendrils,
its story told in scars, lopped arms and leathery
layers: the new wood seals fresh tissue spilling up.
A reek of sweat and dull ache to your feet:
two scarves with a silly floppy hat and creeping
bone-chill. You become a dot, a concentring cipher.
The spring compresses with each cut, the beak
springing back for more, and metal slides on
metal as it bites, hinging on an easy pressure bolt:
snap-happy with a thin grin, closing on vine fingers.
Remove dead wood, nip unwanteds in the bud.
The canopy is divided into ‘Grecian lyre’, or ‘Scott Henry’
style, or ‘Ballerina’, so leaf faces are offered
to full light, air circulates and vines stay free
of spoil, the new shoots promised perfect fruit.
The day ends with a beer. We have opened
a thousand stark wire windows onto winter hills.
Thirty buds are left to rise, vertical as an ideal,
to light green fuses from each living candelabrum.