FOR GORDON AND OLGA BROWNING
And working summer down a farm valley’s shoulders
With its recently acquired owner, I felt
Sunlight notch the sky with cloud as white as fresh pine wood.
Morning’s hazy glare fed noon. We knew lunch was due.
But labor works at a sort of hunger all its own,
Pushing us down-valley to mend fence lines further
Than we wanted to go, into the easy blend
Of weedchoked fields, through the wilderness colonies
Of underbrush, briar-bush and winter’s dead wood.
A taking up of old ownership for work undone.
From the unbending of philosophical nails
Laid out straight on an old barn plank and forgotten,
By all but rust – to stoic mounds of firewood stockpiled
Against gnarly old fence-posts, rough-hewn, grey, resunk
Like old pieces of stitchwork restored on a quilt –
That old story – coming down to mere survival,
To saving costs and to maybe cheating just a bit
On that coming calendar-mark of crow-footed death:
Like the title to a chunk of inherited land
Deeded in trapezoid plots of much-moving soil.
Under a thorn tree – half-expecting it to be there
Among the farm’s other detritus – I spotted rock.
Maybe moved there by a ghost’s cramped and taloned hands,
Maybe the pioneer trademark of rain and glaciers,
A penciled-in deposit, gaining interest
With age, weighing down my other work with wonder.
It caught the farmer-owner’s eye, too. Trouble come
To wall in his silent back with his work. Too busy
For idling details, no story. Survival. “Fieldstone,”
He said, heavily lumping facts into his tone.
From some spring-bubbled rupture of deeper earth
Each fact served a hard loafy load to fictive rains.
Seasons softened the sky-facing edges like soap,
Making it into the least angriest sort of stone.
“Fieldstone,“ the farmer repeated in faded blue
Overlap of sky, denim and tractor’s engine-cowl.
“Just junky stuff. No good. Not limestone. Just fieldstone. “
But he never came to name the farm’s previous owner,
A reserved adherence to a farm’s lost history,
Supposed tales divorced from labor’s loving pull.
The original tree line – now frozen in its last
Season – still stood a vague cohort of bone-white stumps.
The perfect act of persistent saplings and weeds
Overran this too-yielding stand with grueling shade.
Each twirling barb-tine, a tiny finger clutching
Lost habits, old wire hung posts from rusted gallows,
Garroting fleshy trunks of trees grown around it.
But we got back to our suspended talk of stone
Surely to speak for that silent ruckus of stone.
“Fieldstone,“ he repeated, “Take it up. Toss it out. “
Taken up, but from where? The fields had held their own
Until drawn wagons came asking for it, slowly.
In solid wages of sweat and knuckles chewed raw,
Some time ago, before the shag-bark and pig-nut
Branched out into oak’s entitlements of sunlight,
Before unearthed darkness of soil itself would cling
To the saplings’ flanged limbs, the gnarly-garnished trunks
Of elder ash, maple, popple all punked to charred bone.
And after woods’ deepness where excess sunlight spilled
Into a drought, the fairer wood had gone to earth.
Taken up, but why? “You can’t do too much with it
Except pile it up to think of what to do with it.
So you pile it. But c’mon, help me chain this trunk,
Its taproot’s got a hold of something I can’t budge.”
Taken up, a hopeful gesture for the future.
Tossed out, but when? “Oh well, jeez, I dunno, must be,
What? . . . .say fifty, sixty years ago, at the least.
Was here when we came and it came sold with the rest
Of the place. Was sold out with this old tractor, too. “
Tossed out, then; lost; an unchained anchor to the past.
The sun jack-knifed one notch higher up the bark-peeled sky.
The tractor dragged sunlight to the stubborn taproot,
Holding earth’s hot core in its engine-surge, it would chug
Against the trunk for what it might have missed out on
In these old woods, all for the love of labors plied.
A molar in the mouth that sourced the world’s origin,
The trunk came painfully unhinged from mossy works.
The tap-root, implacable yet unraveled from earth,
And bringing its convincing grit to bear down:
A piece of fieldstone, the size of a table-top.
The farmer wanted brush cleared to better his view
Of the valley. So we moved on. But as I struck
This pocked hunk of fieldstone with a stick, I saw walls
Unmade: “No story here.“ – Sure, except how to build
From silent stone, syllabic slabs – altars unsoiled.