Monday, October 10, 2016



The last time I saw Manny
To talk to she was
Holding two butcher
Knives in her hand
Instructing her sister-in-law
How to dress out chickens
That her brother-in-law Everett
Was slaughtering outside the barn
In the rain, with all
His young nephews watching —
The youngest shivered up
Against a barn door
With his eyes squeezed shut,
And even I knew Everett didn’t
Like this job — it was all over
His face — and somehow the fresh
Whet axe felt clumsy in his hands

But not Manny — inside the barn she tossed
A scrap of plywood over a barrel
And proceeded to hold shop with
Her knives — the kids eying
The sop of guts scraped
Into a bucket — and later
They watched the dogs whine down
By the brook where this stew
Would be dumped out for them

So eight years later, this evening,
Manny drove up to our place and
Lifted herself out of the car
Telling us she was the new Avon lady —
We didn’t know what to do
With that, but two hours later
Susan had bought sixteen dollars
Worth of Christmas gifts while Manny
Had told us about her past year of
A broken foot, visits to the chiropractor,
Times out here with social workers
Bringing complaints that she was again
Beating the kids — she said she
Didn’t understand, and it hurt her
Because no one loved those kids
More than her — and sometimes she
Would leave here and go back to
New Hampshire where she was born
Only to find out it had
Changed for the worse —
Just like this place she was always
Turning to drive back home to

How It's Done

Of all the things
Out in the field
Around the farm
Lee Strong might
Have taught me it
Wasn’t how he used
A scythe or midstep
Lifted its blade
To comb his stone
Regaining speed —
Though I watched all of
That — and how he
Stood in the middle
Of his work looking
At barely nothing
For a very long
Time, a match tipped
In to re-light his
Pipe — but how
Loosening a belly
Belt he privately
Let his pants drop
Those cooling
Seconds above
His knees


There were the weeks when
We hadn’t seen Everett on
The road in his truck or
In the hayfield he tended
For another landowner spreading
Lime and fertilizer, his
Mother waving to us from
Her trailer steps and we wouldn’t
Bother her but went to Everett’s
House back off in the woods
Knocking a few times in the
Mid afternoon. He came to the
Door unrecognized — no cap,
A white undershirt out over
Green work trousers, mouth parting
New whiskers saying come inside.
July and curtains closed.

We sat at a table in the middle
Of one big room,
Darkness piled against
The walls, his wife at work in
Town and the kids off somewhere.
Clearing newspapers from the table
I then saw his hand and three
Fingers chopped off at the large
Knuckle, skin rounded over
For stubs. Everett held up the
Hand and said he’d been out of
Work since the accident haying.
Poured himself more coffee from
A thermos, face pale as smoke.
Shaking his head at how he wanted
To grab back the fingers in the
Baler, but the fingers were gone.

Fifteen years later I heard about
His heart attack, how he sat
Healing beside a window in his
New house near the road drinking
Coffee and reading newspapers with
Eye glasses he never wanted anyone
To see, waving to all the neighbors
Driving by with that damaged
Hand that went back to work.

So Long

They had the big
Auction this morning
Up at Bud’s farm. We
Saw road signs announcing
The event a week earlier and
Wondered where it was,
Coming to the news Bud
Had died last winter in his
Farmhouse,  left alone those 
30 years after his wife
Took her life. That was a
Long time ago — Bud hayed
His mowing 80 times since
Then — had six different dogs
All named Duke, never painted
The barn and didn’t mean to
Change his living even with
The county road dividing his
House from the farm, and every
Year the cars passed faster,
The town got closer and Bud
Crossed the road not looking
Either way, the place was his.
Today old Ford out-of-state
Farm trucks with trailers
Were seen in the village
Riding up the hill to Bud’s
Where his machinery and tools
Have been tagged and specialized.
The house will be sold next.
Wife, dogs, barn cats, swallows,
Straw rats, a few dusty chickens
All dead and not for sale, and
Bud made sure no one got Bud.


Bob Arnold
O N C E     I N     V E R M O N T