=============for Russell Denison
The one shot
I don’t think
He wanted to shoot
Put this deer down,
Found on the river ice
After the dogs
Had been chased off.
He left the body alive
Longer than I would
For someone to call
The game warden, or
Hoping 3 or 4 in the pack
Would circle back,
Put a slug in each one’s head.
But nothing returned —
This deer waits
Muscles clawed from her legs,
She won’t ever rise again.
Bloody dog tracks
Pinwheeled from the body.
It is late winter
An open sunny day for a change,
The air is starting to melt
With new bird songs —
Her eyes are wide
She can’t move
Watches us as we move.
All at once
Off in the distance
Where an old hut
Sinks into the ground
Two small windows lit
And steam bellows
Up into the farmland sky —
You thought it was a fire
Until you tasted the air
Uncle Jack is what the young kids
Around here call him, even though he
Isn’t really their uncle but rather
Their own parents’ uncle and usually
They just called him Jack. His name
Doesn’t come up too much when I’m
Working with my neighbors.
There are three houses of the same family
Up the dirt road running alongside
French Brook. The brook eventually
Climbs higher into the next town of
Cheshire and Jack drinks from this brook.
The dirt road winds around Church Mountain
And swings back into the village
Passing through the covered bridge
And over the waterfall,
Forks then into two roads like a wishbone
That provides travel for a dozen families.
They hardly ever come down our road
Which follows the river, and I don’t
Think anyone knows Jack Belden up there.
The three houses on Jack’s back road
Are the homes for two of his nephews
And his sister; Jack’s small trailer
Is hidden in a hollow from them all.
He never married, doesn’t own a car,
Hikes to Brattleboro 12 miles away or
Picks up a ride with the rural mailtruck.
One day walking home from work
I was 500 feet behind Jack who had just
Left the mailtruck in the covered bridge
And was stalking down the muddy river road.
Middle of the season. A warm day.
The buckets on the roadside maples
Brimming with sap.
A mile down the road
And still a distance between us
I watched him abruptly stop,
Look both ways (but not behind him),
Let down his burlap sack of groceries
From his shoulder, then walk to
One of the trees and remove a bucket,
Drink for a good half-minute
Wipe his mouth with his sleeve
Hang the bucket back
Then continue the remaining mile to home.
I thought all about that yesterday —
It was eight years ago. He was 75 years old.
Today I’m tapping the same trees
On the farmer’s land Jack drank from.
The mud is deep and the day is warm,
Not much has changed.
But I heard and couldn’t believe
That Jack has been in the hospital
Since January, the month we broke
All records for freezing temperatures.
I recall one night sitting with neighbors
Already reminiscing about
The headaches of busted water pipes
Depleting cordwood and icy roads,
But no talk about Jack —
The whiskered old man who walks.
Everett, his nephew, told me
As we filled our aprons with tap spouts
That Jack’s gas ran out in the trailer
During one of those real cold nights.
30 below. His feet froze.
They amputated the gangrene from all his toes.
Shut out all the lights to any more walking.
I wonder what this all means —
We worry about water pipes bursting,
But a quarter-mile away
Jack loses his toes.
It wasn’t brought up at town meeting this year.
Jack’s photograph doesn’t grace
The inside town report bulletin
As one of the patriarchs of Guilford.
Yet, he knows his territory —
Takes a leak outside his trailer door
Like any liberated yankee.
Quietly living so that you
Don’t know that he lives.
Showed me once how to
Crush an early shad bud
Between my fingers
For the first scent of spring.
He didn’t move —
With pliers I
Pulled 16 of them
From mouth, lips,
Nose and head —
Like last year
It is early spring
When the big hemlock
Washed down river
During one of the early
Spring runoffs, I went
Down with bowsaw and
Sawed off one large
Limb for the cabin
Steps handrail, and then
Went back and brought
Home a dozen smaller branches
Thinking they could be
Used for something —
Although they have only
Stood up behind the woodshed,
Bleaching in the sun,
Warping away from
They once knew.
Beneath rain clouds
Loose black soil
From the brook
To plant around
A ledge of stone
And in a month
She will smell like
The yellow blossoms
Away from the road,
Off into the high edge
Of a field, unless I
Looked carefully you
Would never have been seen
Growing in folds of sunlight
Among the tall grass.
Each snipped by hand
At the same height, then
Gathered inside a pail
Of shallow water.
The world seems weightless
Watching you work,
If this is work —
You call it a prize
Saved for the last
Hour of the afternoon,
Taking away what this
Plot of land has to give —
Flowers for the kitchen table,
DAY AND NIGHT
How often have we
Stepped together into water —
You left your clothes on the rocks
And shivered your way to me,
Said it was freezing as I thought
Of the mountain stream filling this
Clear basin of evening light, and how
Swallows showed us the angles of the sky
Far above barbed wire and pasture heat
Which we came down from after work
Smelling lilac in the breeze —
And it was the long blonde hair you shook
Out of a blue bandanna and later braided
That had me remember the day and night.
© Bob Arnold
from Where Rivers Meet
(Mad River Press)
photos © bob arnold