Sunday, March 13, 2011



All of life, even the mountains
Around him are changing.

Yet he walks twice each day
To the barn up the wide gravel drive,

No more cattle inside.
His slow and steady pace

Pays respect to the surrounding pasture,
The ring of woodland and evening birds.

What once made him prosperous
Is now gone, except for what he loves —
His wife, old dog, farm buildings and land.
He leans open the heavy sliding barn door,

Steps out of view.


Late in the afternoon
This farmer drove his tractor
Across the river, broke open the thin ice,
Put out salt in the bare ground mowing
And if you looked, you could find his
Red jacket working behind the trees.

That night edges of the river froze again.
Big bright stars burned cold over the hills.
I was carrying in cookstove wood
For the next morning
When the gunshot shook down valley,
Then back up.

Two days later a farm dog
Held the deer’s head
Where he lay down
Chained to the barn.


Probably 1,000 carpenters
Live in the southern part
Of this state, a lot of them
Hip and young with a brand new
Leather apron, heavy duty
Trucks, wives or companions
That are weavers or potters
Or dancers, and of course they
All have a story to tell.
Though yesterday I was in
An old woman’s house high off
From the back road, and she
Lived alone and missed all
Her grandchildren and braided
Rugs in the back of the house
With hand needle and years
And years of wool, and the
Story she had to tell was
Already written in her choice
Of words, the rope of her hands,
And the scar above her left eye
Made thirty-five years ago
By the shuttle of a textile loom.


I came to have my chain saw fixed
And he did that, but
A half hour job
Stretched to three hours
Because he had to show me
All his new tools,
Plus his 75lb. bow
And the antlers from the buck
He shot last fall —
“Arrow went clean through”
Never mind the drawer
Of chewing tobacco
He offered me, and then
To his father, and we both
Politely declined a dip,
And as if that wasn’t enough —
He pulled out the flat
Enveloped reeds he used
For turkey hunting —
Tucked one up on the roof
Of his mouth and cupping
His hands chucked out a
Perfect few syllables
Which would have turned any
Bird’s head, and depending
On how he rolled his body
With a call he could make
It sound horny, but he
Only saved that one for
The summertime, when the
Weekend neighbor’s daughter
Came to visit all alone.


Only 10 yards
Away, and I
Didn’t see her

Fly there, and
I won’t see
Her fly off —

Feathers matching
Down into the
Gray rain
Cedar post

Eyes looking
Straight ahead
Staring me down


March comes and water moves,
The river, ponds, brooks open.
On snowshoes this is the last week
You’ll hike down these banks of
Rotten snow, the last week bridges
Of ice will be there to criss-cross
Down stream, the last week a
Deer carcass will be pinned between
Rocks and white water spray through
The white of her skull — the runoff
Will let her go, or break her to pieces —
You’re aware of this where you step.
Pools of water swirl five feet deep,
Maybe her bones will lay down in the
Sand and white pebbles here, it is
The last week to think of any of this.
Beneath your feet of oblong ashwood
And softened leather you sense the newness
Of life — hide has slipped all winter off
The body, it is time to go places.


It hardly mattered what time of year
We passed by their farmhouse,
They never waved,
This old farm couple
Usually bent over in the vegetable garden
Or walking the muddy dooryard
Between house and red-weathered barn.
They would look up, see who was passing,
Then look back down, ignorant to the event.
We would always wave nonetheless,
Before you dropped me off at work
Further up on the hill,
Toolbox rattling in the backseat,
And then again on the way home
Later in the day, the pale sunlight
High up in their pasture,
Our arms out the window
Cooling ourselves.
And it was that one midsummer evening
We drove past and caught them sitting
Together on the front porch
At ease, chores done,
The tangle of cats and kittens
Cleaning themselves of fresh spilled milk
On the barn door ramp;
We drove by and they looked up —
The first time I’ve ever seen their
Hands free of any work,
No tool or rope or pail —
And they waved.

© Bob Arnold
from Where Rivers Meet
(Mad River Press)

photos © bob arnold