For the harvesters of sweet châtaignes, unravelling their nets each October
under pompomed branches, drying the fruits in thin stone clèdes
before trampling off the husks, scraping off the inner skins with a tiny Opinel
and turning them to crème, purée, confiture, farine;
for the baker with his bowl of leaven, conjuring loaves of céréales, seigle, son
and spongy grey campagne, his olive fougasse and his tourte;
for the mason swivelling schist on schist, with chocks and copes
to save a leaning terrace or replace a beaten wall.
For the aiguiseur on his whetstone pedal-seat, at his side a bright bouquet
for gutting, paring, carving, cleaving, boning, hunting;
for the orange-vest brigade of chasseurs, their rifles cocked for sangliers,
biches, chevreuils along dirt trails like bloodlines through the hills;
for the hound-nosed connoisseurs of cèpes, bolets, chanterelles, morelles,
pieds de mouton, trompettes de mort, who surface after each light rainfall,
fingers brushing earth from cap and stipe, checking gills for forks or knots,
baskets dangling as they scour the verges, crack across the forest floor.
For the goatherd with her stick and dog, her grass-stained paperback,
her rows of moon-white pélardons fresh from moulds,
the dyed mohair she crochets into socks and shawls of every colour
dispatching larger hanks to creators of Parisian couture;
for the elders in blue overalls and smocks on a bench in every village
nodding to the driver of the tractor stacked with hay;
for the neighbour in her potager of chard, tomatoes, pumpkins, courgettes,
the towers of clustered haricots like keys to see her through the winter.
For the choirmaster with her diplôme de conservatoire who draws us out
to a school canteen or draughty hall, the voices of the gifted
and the tone-deaf clattering off the white tiled floors, her baton summoning
Balkan ballads, Brassens, Christmas carols, anthems of La Résistance;
for the stories visible in every patch of leveled land – terrace layered
on terrace as far as the eye can see –
of those who built these mountains from schist and quartz and sparks of mica,
who raise the sky with their bare hands.