stump pic 2

“Is this not the great Babylon…?”

The farmland furrows under bluish air
At dawn – the scent of earthen sadness, dank
As heartbreak, loamy as childhood and loss.

The cropped out squares, as in a calendar,
Are counted frozen graves. How long before
The subsoil dulls the cutter mattock’s blade?

Through windows open to an endless acre
Of field, you draw your own conclusions, rank
By file, and organize them, face to face,

With unpaid bills and legal deeds. Next year
Will be a better season, so you think,
Though drought or flood can make a better case.

While missing tractor parts can freeze an hour
For days, the fishers in the henhouse slink
Away with Thanksgiving, and any crease

In almanac or bible only serves to store
Forgotten debit slips from fortune’s bank.
With thermos, mattock, sledge and spade, you flex

And bend your aches beneath the bending wire;
You walk the pastures, check the cattle tank,
And rescue there beneath a crust of ice

The sweeter summer water trapped like fire.
Your eyes, assuming distances in blank
Regard, now search the tree line for a trace

Of smoldering autumn. But the trees are bare
And flakes of snow are pushing leaves to thank
The sheltering bales of hay. Like rolls of lace

The hoary rows of stubble disappear:
Receding with the tracks of fox and skunk
And blurred in clumps of bloody fur from mice

Unstitched by quickened talons. Here and there
The evidence begins to mount, as frank
And unequivocal as doors that close

On darkness: living on the land, so spare
With splendor’s gifts, to stand your ground, you sank
Your stubborn roots to cling to loam and seize

The world. The morning settles in to dare
Your swinging limbs: you grab a stump by chunk
And hunk and haul each oaken slab and slice.

Methuselah’s own metric, its rings declare
Its shape – irregular as blotted ink –
To smudge the things first formed in Genesis.

Intractable, you see it serve to scar
The back of immaculate fields, this trunk
That tests your claim to things you still possess.

Drunk on your work, you feel November air
Invade your skin and clothing, dank
As shadows, filled as manhood with loss.

The sun is gathering cardinals, as for prayer,
Among the neighboring elms. Now chafed to pink
Your hands are holding out, but blisters bless

Your palms and splinters grace your joints. You hear
The strain of steel on wood. The shadows shrink
Toward noon. As things are giving way, you place

The moment poised there between an error
Of judgment and certainty of instinct,
A deed that names what sins cannot confess:

Like yellow jackets worrying your ear,
A question echoes with the final sink
Of blade through roots, through flesh, through time, through grass….

Who will inherit what the meek possess?


  1. Jonathan Webb says

    Brutal. Thanks.

  2. This is excellent, JOB. Didn’t quite see the last line coming.

    By the way, an excellent tag as well. 😉

  3. Yep, it’s a … stumper …

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