How Could I Explain Anything

photo by Josh Scholten

photo by Josh Scholten

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The moon was like a full cup tonight,
too heavy, and sank in the mist
soon after dark, leaving for light

faint stars and the silver leaves
of milkweed beside the road,
gleaming before my car.

Yet I like driving at night
in summer and in Vermont:
the brown road through the mist

of mountain-dark, among farms
so quiet, and the roadside willows
opening out where I saw

the cows. Always a shock
to remember them there, those
great breathings close in the dark.

I stopped, and took my flashlight
to the pasture fence. They turned
to me where they lay, sad

and beautiful faces in the dark,
and I counted them – forty
near and far in the pasture,

turning to me, sad and beautiful
like girls very long ago
who were innocent, and sad

because they were innocent,
and beautiful because they were
sad. I switched off my light.

But I did not want to go,
not yet, nor knew what to do
if I should stay, for how

in that great darkness could I explain
anything, anything at all.
I stood by the fence. And then

very gently it began to rain.
~Hayden Carruth “The Cows at Night”

All my life I’ve lived near cows,
sitting on a bony Guernsey back
while my father leaned in close to a warm flank
to rhythmically coax milk into a metal bucket.
I’d teach a tail-switching calf to drink from a pail
by leading its mouth, sucking my fingers,
down to the milky froth.

There were always cows out back,
or in the woods,
or across the road,
or on the road,
or following the winding path
or eventually in the freezer,
their great heads bobbing and curious,
ears waggling, tails swiping,
their sand paper tongues
licking clean each moist nostril.

So much is simpler for a cow~
a meadow of dewy grass, and full udders
awaiting the relief of the calf or the milker’s hands.
Maybe this is why I ruminate on life
chewing my cud on what was and is, just
waiting for the next thing to happen.

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Happy Hills of Hay

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Through all the pleasant meadow-side
The grass grew shoulder-high,
Till the shining scythes went far and wide
And cut it down to dry.

Those green and sweetly smelling crops
They led the waggons home;
And they piled them here in mountain tops
For mountaineers to roam.

Here is Mount Clear, Mount Rusty-Nail,
Mount Eagle and Mount High;–
The mice that in these mountains dwell,
No happier are than I!

Oh, what a joy to clamber there,
Oh, what a place for play,
With the sweet, the dim, the dusty air,
The happy hills of hay!
~Robert Louis Stevenson “Hay Loft Poem”

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The Old Hay-mow’s the place to play
Fer boys, when it’s a rainy day!
I good-‘eal ruther be up there
Than down in town, er anywhere!When I play in our stable-loft,
The good old hay’s so dry an’ soft,
An’ feels so fine, an’ smells so sweet,
I ‘most ferget to go an’ eat.An’ one time wunst I _did_ ferget
To go ‘tel dinner was all et,–
An’ they had short-cake–an’–Bud he
Hogged up the piece Ma saved fer me!

Nen I won’t let him play no more
In our hay-mow where I keep store
An’ got hen-eggs to sell,–an’ shoo
The cackle-un old hen out, too!

An’ nen, when Aunty she was here
A-visitun from Rensselaer,
An’ bringed my little cousin,–_he_
Can come up there an’ play with me.

But, after while–when Bud he bets
‘At I can’t turn no summersetts,–
I let him come up, ef he can
Ac’ ha’f-way like a gentleman!
~James Whitcomb Riley “The Old Hay-Mow Poem”

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A Fence Post

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If you stand here you can see the barn.
You can see it from every point on these two hundred acres,
but this spot is the closest.

Here’s a fence post–use your imagination–
that used to be a corner post
for all the fences on this farm.
~Curtis Bauer from “Imaginary Homecoming”

 

Standing in certain spots on our farm,
at certain times of day
and certain times of year,I think I can see and be seen
into forever,
the expanse of sky unending,
touching shadowy hilltop silhouettes.

I become the corner post from which
all boundaries extend,
fencing in the known world from this spot.
I become the barn visible for miles,
though aging and sagging,
still safe haven to all that need to find rest,
a hub for homecoming.

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The Simple Majesty of Foliage

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Chestnut Tree Blooming

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Chestnut Tree Blooming

From bristly foliage
you fell
complete, polished wood, gleaming mahogany,
as perfect
as a violin newly
born of the treetops,
that falling
offers its sealed-in gifts,
the hidden sweetness
that grew in secret
amid birds and leaves,
a model of form,
kin to wood and flour,
an oval instrument
that holds within it
intact delight, an edible rose.
In the heights you abandoned
the sea-urchin burr
that parted its spines
in the light of the chestnut tree;
through that slit
you glimpsed the world,
birds
bursting with syllables,
starry
dew
below,
the heads of boys
and girls,
grasses stirring restlessly,
smoke rising, rising.
You made your decision,
chestnut, and leaped to earth,
burnished and ready,
firm and smooth
as the small breasts
of the islands of America.
You fell,
you struck
the ground,
but
nothing happened,
the grass
still stirred, the old
chestnut sighed with the mouths
of a forest of trees,
a red leaf of autumn fell,
resolutely, the hours marched on
across the earth.
Because you are
only
a seed,
chestnut tree, autumn, earth,
water, heights, silence
prepared the germ,
the floury density,
the maternal eyelids
that buried will again
open toward the heights
the simple majesty of foliage,
the dark damp plan
of new roots,
the ancient but new dimensions
of another chestnut tree in the earth.
~Pablo Neruda, “Ode to a Chestnut on the Ground”

Each spring the horse chestnut tree in our front yard transforms for a week into a Renoir painting.   It explodes into hundreds of bright clusters of delicate orchid-like blossoms, forming cone shaped floral candles illuminating the spreading branches.  However, its setting is more peasant than romantic, as the tree stands in common company between a pine tree and a poplar lining the rural driveway into our barnyard.  This is an exceedingly humble spot for a tree bedecked with foliage of such majestic lighting, its tender broad leafed branches brushed and broken by passing hay wagons and shavings trucks.

Although its graceful beauty seems more appropriate along the Seine River,  during the summer it fits perfectly in its spot near our haybarn.  Its verdant foliage provides deep cooling shade during hot sweaty days.    The branches that were once lit up with scores of pink and white blossoms become leafy respite for a dusty hay crew gulping lemonade in between loads.   Horses snooze in the paddocks under its shadow.   Birds nest well hidden and squirrels leap from swaying branch to branch.   The tree becomes sanctuary within and below.

By fall, the tree forms its fruit within unpretentious capsules covered with spines and prickles, visually spiked yet the bristles actually soft and pliable.  There are few natural things  so plain and homely as the buckeye horse chestnut husk.   These are shed by the hundreds  in autumn wind and rainstorms, and they shower down, cobbling the driveway, eventually to break apart underfoot.

Only by leaving the tree can the deep brown nut be revealed from its hiding place, its richness exposed.    From exquisite bloom to shady haven to prickly husk to mahogany harvest,  this chestnut tree’s changing palette needs no canvas, no frame, no museum gallery showcase.  Instead its majestic exhibition is for free,  right in our front yard.

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Shedding the Earth

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You come to fetch me from my work to-night
When supper’s on the table, and we’ll see
If I can leave off burying the white
Soft petals fallen from the apple tree
(Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite,
Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinkled pea);
And go along with you ere you lose sight
Of what you came for and become like me,
Slave to a Springtime passion for the earth.
How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,
The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.
~Robert Frost “Putting in the Seed”

I need not cling to soil so tightly~
Instead ready myself to sprout boldly,
reaching to touch the sky.

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The Pleasantest Thing

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How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
River and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!
~Robert Louis Stevenson “The Swing”

 

This pipe swing set, made by my father 60 years ago after my birth, has moved four times. It now sits on the knoll above our barnyard, and the feeling of soaring into the air is enhanced by the slope dropping off beneath our feet.  These swings have seen many swingers over the years, and my time in these seats were full of contemplation and conversation.

The most pleasantest thing ever…

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A Message to the Future

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And this is where we went, I thought,
Now here, now there, upon the grass
Some forty years ago.

The days being short now, simply I had come
To gaze and look and stare upon
The thought of that once endless maze of afternoons.
But most of all I wished to find the places where I ran

What’s happened to our boys that they no longer race
And stand them still to contemplate Christ’s handiwork:
His clear blood bled in syrups from the lovely wounded trees?
Why only bees and blackbird winds and bending grass?
No matter. Walk. Walk, look, and sweet recall.

I came upon an oak where once when I was twelve
I had climbed up and screamed for Skip to get me down.
It was a thousand miles to earth. I shut my eyes and yelled.
My brother, richly compelled to mirth, gave shouts of laughter
And scaled up to rescue me.
“What were you doing there?” he said.
I did not tell. Rather drop me dead.
But I was there to place a note within a squirrel nest
On which I’d written some old secret thing now long forgot.

{Now} I lay upon the limb a long while, thinking.
I drank in all the leaves and clouds and weathers
Going by as mindless
As the days.
What, what, what if? I thought. But no. Some forty years beyond!

I brought forth:
The note.

I opened it. For now I had to know.
I opened it, and wept. I clung then to the tree
And let the tears flow out and down my chin.
Dear boy, strange child, who must have known the years
And reckoned time and smelled sweet death from flowers
In the far churchyard.
It was a message to the future, to myself.
Knowing one day I must arrive, come, seek, return.
From the young one to the old. From the me that was small
And fresh to the me that was large and no longer new.
What did it say that made me weep?

I remember you.
I remember you.
~Ray Bradbury from “Remembrance”

 

I too left notes to my future self, in old barns, and lofts,
and yes, in trees,
but have never gone back to retrieve them.
My ten year old heart tried to imagine itself fifty years hence,
what fears and joys would pass through like pumping blood,
what love and tears would trace my face?

I have not forgotten.
I am remembered.

noaanya

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