Monthly Archives: October 2015

“No Less Our Boon”

Photo of "misanthropic jay" by Tilon Sagulu
Photo of “misanthropic jay” by Tilon Sagulu

Tithe

by David Axelrod

Some apples remain always just out of reach
of three-legged ladders and our outstretched
hands, as in October, when yellow jackets growl
inside overripe fruit that never seems to fall,
no matter the wind. Russet globes hang in trees,
rusting, mushy, molding, but very sweet
under the skin, a drunken feast for those of us
who haven’t forgotten our wings nor how we use
these to fly. It’s not really a generous concession,
a tenth part, though it’s no less our boon when—
in the crowns of those trees in January,
sky low and bleak, nuthatch, waxwing, towhee,
and the loud, misanthropic jay, all hungry
vagrants of the snow, jabber as though at a Jubilee.

from Folly © Lost Horse Press, 2014
Reprinted with Permission. Buy now

A “tithe,” as Axelrod points out, is that “tenth part” of income or harvest set aside as an offering to God, or for works of mercy. The gesture’s meant to short-circuit our often-instinctive drive to claim all that we can, to store up what we don’t need now against an uncertain future. This sonically rich sonnet always reminds me of what Wendell Berry says in his book, What Are People For?: “If one is living by the tithes of history’s most destructive economy, then the disembodiment of the soul becomes the chief of worldly conveniences.” If we tithe our time and energy with the intention only of acquiring more money and so-called power, it can become easier and easier to sacrifice our soul. Better to feed ourselves, both he and Axelrod seem to say, by feeding the world in ways both large and small, even if it is simply with “Some apples,” we couldn’t reach, and which are now “rusting, mushy, moldy, but very sweet/under the skin.”

There are countless chances to practice generosity, to give a bit more than is comfortable. If I’m moved to give just change to the women and men I meet on the street, I try to offer a dollar or more. If my mother expects me to visit for a few days, I stay a little longer. “Tithe” ecstatically shows us that there can also be a direct reward for such giving. The apples, whose sweetness the speaker was forced to abandon, become a “boon when—/in the arms of those trees in January,” birds crowd around for their “drunken feast” and “jabber as at a Jubilee,” lending both color and song to an otherwise “bleak” and silent morning. Axelrod’s poem ultimately asks: Who among us wouldn’t leave behind something to feed those “hungry/vagrants of the snow,” knowing how little it takes to make them happy, knowing that their happiness is transferable, and instantly becomes our own?

—James Crews