Farm Poem #12

“See,” I say excitedly,
Observing it myself
For the first time,
“That pear is pear-shaped!”
It’s April, and wild pears are
Burst into blossom—
Corpulently conical,
Sveltely plump—
Ovoid and, devoid of negative space,
As perfectly pearish as their fruit.

She can’t see it, however.
“You mean the trees?” she asks,
Seeing through the flowers
To the barely visible trunks and limbs.
But I can’t know this. So we go,
Back and forth to Culpeper,
So close to communicating.
It’s only when I demonstrably
Gesture the form into shape
That her eyes ignite with understanding.

It’s no surprise, then, is it,
When, working old floor boards
A week later, I ask her for
The digging iron, or pry bar,
—appellations via applications—
And she responds by saying,
“Oh, you mean the big nail!”
I’m instantly smitten,
For it is a big nail,

And for the first time
I see it too;
See how I didn’t
See it before,
See how I couldn’t;

See, as I am able,
How much is
Boldly hiding
In the bright blue light
Of a spring afternoon.

Farm Poem #11

Ovid tells the story of Cyparissus,
A boy who carelessly killed his beloved
Stag and, heartbroken by its death,
Mourned himself into a cypress.

I, too, was that child at age nine,
Extracting an arrow from a guinea fowl
Which, moments earlier, had been cackling
Warnings from a walnut branch.

If I could have metamorphosed into wood
I would have; believing—not believing—
The arrow would penetrate;
I scrubbed the bloody shaft against the dark soil,

And confessed, the instant my parents arrived home,
My shame. So when I heard, thirty-five years later
That our prized ram had been gut-shot,
Twenty yards from a neighboring deer-stand,

A slow death, hooves carving
Figure eights in the dusty loam,
I thought of a boy in a tree,
His finger on the trigger as the ram grazed near,

Nearer, wondering what happens next,
Wondering, how the entry wound could
Be as small as a thumbnail, innocuous,
Yet the exit the width of his fist;

Wondering, when the light faded matte
In the white ram’s eyes, unblinking,
How he might grieve his way, forever,
Into the closest, deepest, blackest woods.

Farm Poem #10

We notice the obvious,
Ostentatious: the seam in the beam
In the barn is flagitiously askew,
Nine hundred pounds of hanging death.

That’ll get our attention!
On a farm where we patch it and prop it,
Forever a rend to mend,
We’ll fix it, yes—lest two centuries

Of brick and mortar and timber
Come rumbling tumbling down. Naturally.
To build up, however, we must
Build down. We dig.

Manure, more manure, manure more,
Clay, stones, subsoil, where, near bottom,
The shovel tinks a single glassy note
And in the shadows I spy the bottle,

Buried how long, this deep,
Below the sun, the frost-line, our
Reasonable expectations?
Hold it against the sky.

Oh, bottle! We know you instantly.
Corked with corrosion,
Filled with murky liquid,
While others speculate

—Is it bromide? Whiskey? Iodine?—
We don’t have to guess;
We’ve been waiting to pay attention,
Distracted entire lifetimes,

Promised that this jewel,
If properly polished,
Will perfume the air with smoke, and
Someday soon, someday will at last arrive.

Farm Poem #9

Not far from the farm is a monastery of Cistercians
Where, as a seventh grader,
I attended a series of Civil War lectures
Curated by Brother James,
A white monk gray in my memory.

Coarse cotton-smocked, he lead us up
A narrow staircase smelling of
Stone and lichen and spiders and shadows,
Into archived ecumenica where, surprising the senses,
Blue burst through the beveled windows,

Illuminating. Forgive me, father, for I have
Forgotten everything, save the unforgettable;
Scores of shelves with thousands of books,
Spines bearing heavy titles, like the graves
Of seven hundred soldiers buried just beyond;

Yet, more fascinating to me than the bones of dead teenagers,
Men drowning one another in the waist-deep Shenandoah,
Guerrillas exacting flaming sabotage, explosions, mayhem,
Were these profoundly anonymous books. Fixated,
I reasoned a day must arrive in adulthood when

All books are read. The sheer volume—
There was a physical obligation. I felt it.
The monk spoke, but behind him, silence.
I plunged past hypothesis and thesis, headlong into law.
Junior high and monasteries are good places for laws!

The loss, then, more impactful when
In college, from a distance, I witnessed professor
Thomas Disch stumbling sun-blind down the steps
Of Tucker Hall, the English Department,
Bewildered beneath the bowered beech,

This bear-man, broader and taller than I’ll ever be,
Who seized my shoulder and, epistemologically-stunned,
Pressed as though I could bear his weight, confessed,
“Do you realize, with all the books already written
Good books, worthy books, books we wish we could read,

Not counting all the ones we don’t care about,
Not counting what’s to come,
Right now—right now!—there are too many great ones
Than we could ever read in a lifetime?”
Saying this, his eyes appeared to clear,

And I sensed he saw me for the first time.
The great paw of heft that had been driving me
Straight through the pavers and into some Colonial
Science fiction lifted, and he blinked twice, and departed.
When was this time? What was this moment?

Why, a lifetime later, stopped at a railroad crossing along
Some distant back country road, the clattering cargo of
Thousands of tons passing before us, do we think of
Anna Karenina five thousand miles and a century removed,
Consumed one hot July week in high school, but we can’t recall the plot lines?

Why does this great volume forever move through us,
Grayscaled from the wash of memory,
And climbing the steps to bed one evening,
Just before sleep, we suffer the unraveling tragedy of
Not having read it all, remembered it all, felt it all?

Farm Poem #8

Spring is never as we remember it:
Too soon, too hot, too dry, too cold —
Forgetting that the earth wobbles,
What sort of spring do we seek?

The one we’re convinced we recall
Twenty years ago when
The smell of fresh cut grass
Daydreamed itself through the parted window

And into pre-Algebra,
Two fifteen in the afternoon;
Then, when the arrival of spring meant
One day beneath the cold flat stone

The salamanders weren’t there,
But the next, beautifully, they were.