Married over 30 years (& counting) to the one love of my life
Secrets To My Brother's Farm
"Before you run off to the chores,
I have a secret you must learn,"
And so the messages are passed
On how to operate this tractor or that truck,
Which I, the visitor, must discern.
"This tractor's clutch will soon go out,
Unless you heed these words,
Keep rpm just high enough, but not too much...
Idle her down before you slip the clutch."
"The key won't work in the old pickup,
Just pull up the knob there on the dash,
Then give the coat hanger wire a pull
until the engine fires...oh...did you check the tires?"
"Oh, while we're at it, see that old truck?
It doesn't like to start on the first try
So turn it over a couple times for luck
And then she'll start and never die."
"The air compressor switch is gone,
so plug it in to make it go, but first
Be sure to drain the tank, or it won't run,
The motor's tired and and has to have an easy start."
"The tires on the trailer need more air,
Especially the left one in the back,
Slow leak is all it is, but if it goes,
A newer tube's up on the rack."
"The loader's got a special wire
That you must clip to get the alternator charging,
(And if you ever do forget, the ire
You'll feel when the wires start to burning.")
"This cow's alright, but don't forget,
To feed her last in her own bunk;
She likes to fight, and we'll need the vet,
If others crowd her to a funk."
"Don't lean on that, or you'll get hurt;
I've meant all spring to nail it."
"The handle broke, so you have to get out
By rolling down the window."
"Watch out! The guard is off that thing;
It'll take your arm just quick!"
"Turn the key and let it spin, not once, but twice;
Then wait a second and she'll run."
"Be sure to shut the gas valve off,
Or it'll drain out on the ground."
"No brakes, so drive her carefully.
Keep it in a lower gear, and need be,
Hit something cheap."
"Two scoops only is the limit
You'll make her sick with more."
"Be sure to double-wire the gate;
The cattle will get out."
"We save the egg shells for the garden;
We never throw away what we could use."
So many secrets to remember,
I sure could use a list.
What I get when I suggest?
A look equivalent to a hiss.
When Technology died,
some of us merely shrugged and
Tried to go back to before...
Only it wasn't the same...
So many hard-wirings gone,
So many places where we used to go,
So many thoughts we used to know,
Forgotten in an ethereal swirl...
Internetted and forgotten.
Power plants done, and no more juice
To feed along the sagging wires.
Once the Internet went down,
(Without so much as a diminishing blip
Of dying light (cathodes were gone)),
Ah, Lord, we missed the ethereal glow...
Screens now dead and flat,
Unable even to reminisce
The comfort-glow of former irritants,
The fuzziness 0f electronic snow....
And telephones! My Lord!
To think of how we used to talk!
Electronic prayers, each other we implored...
So much connected,
We forgot the depths of face to face,
Now cellular paperweights lie dormant,
Longing for at least a little life,
Reminding us those days are gone.
We pass our little news
Word of mouth now,
Word of mouth to ear,
Only if the ones
We want to know are near.
Before the sun
With his bright face
Puts angles on the shade,
Before old darkness slinks into his place,
I leave the house...
This morning off to work,
But slowing in my run,
I lean to see....
East and high above, a shypoke pair
Take leisure in their flight,
Wings creaking prehistoric,
Feet streaming back on boney stalks,
A trailing nuisance in the air,
Yet perfect for deep water walks.
The chilly air is still;
Dew hovers on the edge
Of giving up on hesitating summer.
Winter is not yet so far away
That crystal forms
Have been forgotten.
Dogwood, leafless yet, and bleeding red,
Begins to glow along the path
The joggers take before the morning sun.
The early light is best
To seek perspective on the world
Before the morning paper,
Before the morning cup;
The early light is best,
As long as we are up.
I should be outside...
Trees are thinking steady now
Of pushing leaves through
I should be outside...
Geese are guarding eggs...
Golden yolks inside the round
Arrays of speckled grey.
I should be outside...
Foolish grasses wave tender flags
To call my snorting lawnmower
From its winter shed.
(El Toro is its name).
I should be outside...
I am crunching numbers,
Statistics' slave to keys
Whose metallic smells
Recite the probabilities
Existent in Fra Dante's hells...
Shall I abandon hope if I press "enter"?
Statistic hell is found at data's center.
I should be outside....
The sun is going down;
Night birds are trading calls...
The greebing screech of night hawks'
Wing-air brakes now haw and swoop
Their practicing 'til bugs arrive....
I should be outside...
Forget this chore.
I'm going out.
Tomorrow is another day.
I'm going out to play
Two Christmases ago,
Morning cold hovers in electrons.
Frost covers the Chevrolet
Backed by whiteness
Under zero degree sunlight
The old farm place sees morning
Bright and calm....
The ancient barn,
hoar frosted roof agleam,
Stands downhill to the north,
Below a curving tractor trail
Cut in the snow...
At the other end of those tracks,
Eighty-one and counting,
You are crawling down
the tractor steps,
Pulling battered buckets
from the ancient fodder shack,
Hobbling to the cattle troughs...
Doing what you love to do...
Have done for fifty years....
I am taking pictures at the house,
Amazed at the cold and frost;
An onlooker now,
Somehow aware that I can not
Follow you...or won't,
Wistful still for attentions
you always freely gave
To kine instead of kin.
Could I go back,
Would I go down
To trough the feed?
I tell myself I would,
Or I would not.
The image burns coldly,
Electrically before me,
And only vaguely I'm aware
That you have slipped away.
at the oddest moments
just at the brink of ennui
glimmers of eternity
ephemeral dancing joys
just out of sight
to the desiring ear...
to the attentive eye...
patter pit of little feet
contented laying of jowls
in a dabble of sunlight
carpet warm stretchings
closing of contented eyes
soft dog snores
laconic life in the moment
this Sunday afternoon....
When ranchers decide to do a thing,
Sometimes they just go through it.
What follows is a little fling
A neighbor did...don't do it.
The clearing of the land requires a little fortitude
Some ingenuity, and luck, and not a little courage.
So A.D. Volbrecht's story, though a little crude,
Is only strange to those who eat milk toast and porridge.
Rather than tear an old house down to clear a farming space,
A.D. enlisted help from his oldest son to haul the thing away.
Together then, the two grown men took on a moving race
To see if they could jack the house and move it in one day.
The morning saw a Donahue, low slung and meant to haul,
Waiting as the house was raised, (unsteady on new legs)
Then slowly lowered down again. T'would make a feller bawl
To see the old home place prepare to pack its bags.
Son Zane began a steady pull to move the old house home,
And A.D. took his place in front, flashers and flags to warn.
Slow going was their pace, and traffic stopped up some;
The actual move was tougher than the plan they'd formed.
So seven miles became a half a day, and challenges arose
How ever would they move the thing through town?
The power lines and traffic cops were obstacles; who knows
What kinds of tickets they'd be writing down?
Up ahead the airport gleamed, the tarmac shimmered black.
"Aha!" old A.D. cried, "I've found the way around!"
Hard left he turned on a county road, and cut the fence in back
And guided Zane and the old home shack to airport ground.
Western Airways flight was due sometime that afternoon;
Old AD rattled on up Runway One, old pickup running fast,
To find a gate to let the old house through, (and none too soon);
The tractor and its load sputtered through the parking lot at last.
In June a few years back, a farmer and his son pulled off a heist.
Stole some runway time and cut their journey short...
No harm done, though they'd never do it twice
Without winding up defenseless in the county court.
Thrift Shop Confessional
Old carts squeak down re-sale aisles
"One of," "two of,"
Sometimes "three of" items
Tempting treasure-sifting shoppers,
Women seeking up-brand names at low-brand prices...
Our wives, followed by their husbands,
Acquiescent, but quiescently seeking
Seeking a thrift shop oasis.
A cast-off dining set beckons,
Sturdy enough, if a little battered,
To make us solemnly content to wait
Carted clothing trundling
Off to fitting rooms.
He shuffled up with a foolish grin.
"I think I'll join this convocation of
My wife is a shopper...
She'll close the place down."
I moved a chair and gave some space;
Strangers become brothers in this place.
Five minutes on,
I knew he was a vet:
Army, Vietnam Nam...
"I don't like to think about it,"
Cleared his throat,
"Never can forget."
I turned to look at him.
"A little girl came running,
With her hand behind her back.
She only stood this high," he said,
And showed me with his palm her height,
"They carried grenades that way...
All of 'em...couldn't tell which ones...
Sergeant told us, 'Don't ever check...just shoot.'"
The voice trailed off....
I sat sweating in a thrift store,
Captive of my own politeness,
Half a century,
Half a planet,
Transported in his words
into a soldier's Hell.
"So I shot...
Nothing else to do."
A total stranger staggering
under the weight of having
Murdered his Albatross....
Of having carried this thing,
Inside him all these years,
Of finding me,
The unsuspecting thrift shop guest
Who'd listen to his lonely tale,
Perhaps so he could earn some rest....
I, his unwitting Confessor,
Uncertain what to say,
Certain something must be said...
Certain nothing could be said...
Sat dumb, but understanding
The wisdom of confessional dividers,
The private comfort of two booths
Where prayerful exchanges
Intersperse uncertain silences,
Present in the overhanging need:
Demanding sorrowful returns,
Impending memories of sorrows...
And lonely trudgings home....
(Connections with Fr. Laurence's "Riddling confession finds but short shrift," in Romeo & Juliet, and Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner")
Who is this old man sitting in the tattered old chair,
Yelling French at Mad Dog Vachon,
Bragging about the Crusher's capacity for beer,
Chortling at the desolation of the British Bull Dogs?
Smoking his cigars to their very ends in his old pipe,
Spitting plug tobacco juice
Mostly in the can beside us as my Grandma gags....
The French they speak to each other
Should include requests for pardon....
This raving lunatic is my Grandpa Charles,
And I am five and six and seven,
Sitting on his lap,
Believing every word the Gospel truth:
Seeing Vachon as the savior of French Canada,
The Bulldogs for the evil nation they proclaim,
Kegs of beer as quantities strong men crush.
This old Frenchman whose horse days are done,
Who barely knows to sit still
Though he is a passenger now,
Beside my father...
Knows magical tricks to stun and spell me:
Pushing his teeth out with his tongue,
Leaking smoke from his ears,
Tamping burning coals with his thumb...
An old man who refuses to be old,
Who sits and raves at wrestlers on TV.
Stubborn Frost's last throes,
Daily sun-beleaguered, still
Chill weakly each night.
Exposed veins of voles,
White hair receding from lawns...
Old Winter grows bald.
Swans trumpet to tell
Iced panes a liquid story;
Just fools tread old ice.
Lingers Winter still;
The sun broods over gray clouds;
Vaporous Spring stirs.
Cloven seasons stall,
Though migrants race to their nests
Expecting warm skies.
My heart leaps to see
Faith in action ev'ry Spring...
Surety of Life!
You come to the end of those long roads
You've staggered down,
When you have fallen and can only drag
Your sorry self around;
Remember then that home
Still is the place Frost told us
They have to take us in
When there's no place else left
For us to go.
You've no where else to turn
Because those bridges you have burned
Will no longer carry you across;
Because you're spurned by friends you've spurned;
Remember then that all's not lost;
A humbled soul still finds
That home remains a waiting friend...
When you remember when....
To see another day;
A bloke just nodded at me
While I was on my way.
A lady smiled, and
Genuine she seemed
So that I smiled back,
As if to say,
"You're right; life's not so bad,
Though now I am alone;
Think of the times I've had,
Though now I am alone."
I think I'll stay around to see
What turns up next...
Because an old friend called
To say we ought to see a show;
Called up to say he'd thought of me...
Meant earlier to call,
"But you know how busy life can be..."
(Indeed, I must admit I don't.)
(A little hope is still a little hope.)
Tweedle One and Tweedle Two
Stood impatient at the Gate
Waiting on each other to go in
"You go first," said Number One;
"By all means, NO!" said Tweedle Two,
"I'll always follow you!"
So still they stand, the Tweedle Twins,
Humbugs for life's old manners,
Immobile human bowling pins
So bent on form and social matters....
Come rain or snow, they remain so,
Determined to the last to hesitate
On point of order at the garden gate.
Published March 16, 2013
I brought you red roses,
Just opening in glory
Because you felt this morning…
That you weren’t
I saw you
Of lesser beauty,
These roses belong
In the presence of
David spied Bathsheba sitting in Uriah's bath
Up on a roof one night, before he fell into her arms...
Then bathing wouldn't cleanse Jehovah's wrath;
Bathsheba's man and baby came to harm.
Samson saw Delilah; they caused a perfect storm;
A plague of woe from their love was aroused,
'Til, blind and chained, the mighty man performed
The feat of strength that rattled down the house.
Antony and Cleopatra fell to each other's charm,
And who it was who conquered whom is still unfixed.
We only know a serpent stung her in the arm,
And Tony died a lonely man, perplexed.
A flower stood alone out in a lonely glen....
"If love appears to you," Persephone would say,
"There may be thrill at first, dear friend.
Beware, beware! Hades must have his day."
"The course of love ne'er did run smooth,"
The Bard was wont to say, and fully I agree,
The human heart can promise love and truth,
Then wander off in quest of agony.
Let the springtime follies find their place,
And every admin find his clarion call.
Faculty and staff find hiding space;
The dice are cast and heads must fall.
The changing of the guard makes haste;
Outside the trickling melt is slow.
Quickened blood and whitened face...
Colleagues lost.... We wonder who will go.
House cleaning goes with spring, I guess;
We tend to move those articles of ease,
Ignoring those who have the power to oppress...
Whose absence might bring summer on the breeze.
He didn't see the patch of ice;
She had closed her eyes for just a bit.
When she looked,
No time to shout,
Windows blowing out,
Merciful airbags slamming oblivion
Through muffled thudding
"Some day, if we die at the same time,"
His mother had said,
"We want to be together in the grave."
An ominous request, that,
And one to be perused, ignored,
As her life hovered
"Ten percent," the doctors said.
Shattered body, all alone
They were together again.
"Do you remember what they asked?"
"And do you think...?"
Her head upon his chest...
Embraced in life,
Embraced in death.
Lowered gently down,
A warming day,
In spite of snow,
A circling of friends around,
A mercy to have lived and died
Through every harm
Encircled in each others' arms.
Prohibition came, but not to Whiskey Hill.
A man has got to eat; a drunk must have his fill.
Old Abner dug a basement before fall
Beneath the milking barn at night;
Dug down and mortared up a wall;
Bought copper sheets and hammer-fit 'em tight,
Disguised his vent holes in the stall
By countersinking posts to keep them out of sight.
Set down a trapdoor and a sturdy stair,
Strawed the lot and penned up his old mare.
In all he did, he didn't tell his wife a thing;
He reasoned there was money to be made...
More than the crops would ever bring,
More than the eggs the chickens laid,
He'd be enriched by moonshine in the spring.
He learned to ferment mash from an old book,
Soaked down a bag of corn and let it sprout,
Waited twelve full days before he took a look,
Cracked kernels, poured on water, boiling hot,
Then pitched the yeast and left his hidden nook,
And all the while kept his mouth shut;
Seven days and Sunday passing by,
Old Ab could wait no more;
Ate supper quick and told his wife
He'd one more feeding chore...
Stole to the barn and shoo'ed the mare aside,
Pulled up the vent posts from the floor,
Climbed down and lit a fire inside
Beneath the still to let the vapors soar.
A thrill began as drops began to fill the jug;
The fore-shot blended in as Ab forgot
That methanol would poison off the slug,
So when a shot he took, his breathing stopped.
Above, impatient Molly stamped, then paced
Hungrily in her pen, shoved to reach her hay
And dropped the standards in their place,
Plugged tight the vents, above where Abner lay.
When Hildy woke, her husband still was out;
She walked down to the barn, no sign to see;
And thought it odd the horse was out...
The cattle lowing hungrily for feed.
The sheriff came to have a look;
No luck had he,
Old Hildy sold the place and moved away.
Where she went and how remains a mystery.
A cousin bought the place: house and barn and still (unseen).
His sons, exploring, found old Abner in the spring
Beneath the horse's paddock where he lay.
Leaves have disappeared,
Only the last,
The fallen fruit remains,
Fading red and waiting frost.
Not yet visible, the latent buds
Hang silent now on leafless boughs....
Fallen summer's work
In this garden of the lost
Beneath autumn branches lie:
Graveyards of apples.
Only the passing deer
Bend low to pick the last of harvest up:
Provender quick, an easy meal
Before the coming snow.
Chill fingered knife,
Ice laser penetrates epidermis,
Cracks the brittle sternum,
Then only gives a tickling touch
There at the porches of the heart;
Aortal rhythms pause and tense,
Resting, moving on...
Pausing, resting, moving on.
Slow wintering this...
Six months past death,
The heart, still beating
After that last breath,
The beating in this winter cold
Rejects fear's hold,
Melts the blade of ice,
Reserves the final breath
Until another day,
Provides me reasons now
To love and to be loved.
So it is that here in winter
I cock my head to hear
A trickling song of melting snow,
A thawing fear, a warming hope.
Seasons come and go, and nights and days
Revolving take each other's place.
Life and death for us still in the web of time
Hold constant power until
Eternity steps in and takes us home.
"Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow,
I will fear no evil, for Thou, Oh Lord, are with me."