Catch the Sunset

All day he’s shoveled green pine sawdust
out of the trailer truck into the chute.
From time to time he’s clambered down to even
the pile. Now his hair is frosted with sawdust.
Little rivers of sawdust pour out of his boots.

I hope in the afterlife there’s none of this stuff
he says, stripping nude in the late September sun
while I broom off his jeans, his sweater flocked
with granules, his immersed-in-sawdust socks.
I hope there’s no bedding, no stalls, no barn

no more repairs to the paddock gate the horses
burst through when snow avalanches off the roof.
Although the old broodmare, our first foal, is his,
horses, he’s fond of saying, make divorces.
Fifty years married, he’s safely facetious.

No garden pump that’s airbound, no window a grouse
flies into and shatters, no ancient tractor’s
intractable problem with carburetor
ignition or piston, no mowers and no chain saws
that refuse to start, or start, misfire and quit.
..

…then he says
let’s walk up to the field and catch the sunset
and off we go, a couple of aging fools.

I hope, he says, on the other side there’s a lot
less work, but just in case I’m bringing tools.
~Maxine Kumin from “Chores”

When I pull open the barn doors
every morning
and close them again each evening,
as our grandparents did
one hundred years ago,
six rumbling voices
rise in greeting.
We exchange scents,
nuzzle each others’ ears,
rumble grumble back a response.

We do our chores faithfully
as our grandparents once did–
draw fresh water
into buckets,
wheel away
the pungent mess underfoot,
release an armful of summer
from the bale,
reach under heavy manes
to stroke silken necks.

We don’t depend
on our horses’ strength
and willingness to
don harness
to carry us to town
or move the logs
or till the soil
as our grandparents did.

Instead,
these soft eyed souls,
born on this farm over
two long decades ago,
are simply grateful
for our constancy
morning and night
to serve their needs
until the day comes
they need no more.

And we depend on them
to depend on us
to be there
to open and close the doors;
their low whispering welcome
gives voice
to the blessings of
living on a farm
ripe with rhythms and seasons,
sunrises and sunsets that keep coming,
as if yesterday, today and tomorrow are
just like one hundred years ago.


Seen All and Been Redeemed

raspberry

 

raspberryripen

 

wild-strawberry

 

I eat these
wild red raspberries
still warm from the sun
and smelling faintly of jewelweed
in memory of my father

tucking the napkin
under his chin and bending
over an ironstone bowl
of the bright drupelets
awash in cream

my father
with the sigh of a man
who has seen all and been redeemed
said time after time
as he lifted his spoon

men kill for this.
~Maxine Kumin, “Appetite” from Selected Poems: 1960-1990.

 

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huckleberry

 

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We’ve exhausted the strawberries with only a few “everbearing” continuing to produce through the remaining hot days of summer.  The raspberries too are drying up with leaves curling.  The mountain huckleberries have had their hey-day.  The blueberries continue strong and juicy.

And now blackberries, free for the picking, hang in mouth-watering clusters from every fence line, long roads and ditches, just begging to be eaten.  Blackberry vines seem like trouble 90% of the year–growing where they are not welcome;  their thorns reach out to grab passersby without discriminating between human, dog or horse. But for about 3 weeks in August, they yield black gold–bursting unimaginably sweet fruit that is worth the hassle borne the rest of the weeks of the year.

Thorns are indeed part of our everyday life. They stand in front of much that is sweet and good and precious to us. They tear us up, bloody us, make us cry, make us beg for mercy.  In fact, man has died by thorns and been killed for the sweetness.

Yet thorns did not stop salvation, did not stop goodness, did not stop the promise of redemption to come. We don’t even need to wait to be fed and no one need die: such a gift as this was dropped from heaven itself.

 

BlackberryThorns

 

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A Thoughtful Dripping Muzzle

drippingmuzzle
Scottish Watering Trough (like many American Troughs, it had a previous life)

 

Belted Galloways in the Galloway region of Scotland

Let the end of all bathtubs
be this putting out to pasture
of four Victorian bowlegs
anchored in grasses.

 

Let all longnecked browsers
come drink from the shallows
while faucets grow rusty
and porcelain yellows.

Where once our nude forebears
soaped up in this vessel
come, cows, and come, horses.

Bring burdock and thistle,
come slaver the scum of
timothy and clover
on the cast-iron lip that
our grandsires climbed over

and let there be always
green water for sipping
that muzzles may enter thoughtful
and rise dripping.
~Maxine Kumin “Watering Trough”

 

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burdock

 

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Farmers became the original recyclers before it was a word or an expectation — there isn’t anything that can’t be used twice or thrice for whatever is needed, wherever and whenever, especially far from the nearest retail outlet or farm supply store.

The water troughs on the farm where I grew up were cast-off four-legged bath tubs hauled home from the dump, exactly like the old tub I bathed in when staying overnight at my grandma’s farm house.  She needed her tub to stay put right in the bathroom, never considering an upgrade and remodel; she would never offer it up to her cows.

But there were people who could afford to install showers and molded tubs so out their tubs went to find new life and purpose on farms like ours.

We kept goldfish in our bathtub water trough, to keep the algae at bay and for the amusement of the farm cats. The horses and cows would stand drowsily by the tub, their muzzles dripping, mesmerized by flashes of orange circling the plugged drain.

I often wondered what they thought of sharing their drinking water with fish, but I suspect they had more weighty things to ponder: where the next lush patch of grass might be, how to reach that belly itch,  finding the best shade with fewest flies to take that afternoon nap.

When it comes to sharing a tub, maybe farm animals aren’t that different from their farmer keepers after all:  they both stand dripping and thoughtful alongside the tub, wondering about the next thing to be done, which may well be a well-earned rest.

 

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Dancing in Dust Motes

barnboys

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ready
emptied and ready

They put up hay loose there, the old way,
forking it into the loft from the wagon rack
while the sweaty horses snorted and switched off flies
and the littlest kids were commanded to trample it flat
in between loads until the entire bay
was alight with its radiant sun-dried manna….
It was paradise up there with dusty sun motes
you could write your name in as they skirled and drifted down.
There were ropes we swung on and dropped from and shinnied up
and the smell of the place was heaven, hurling me back
to some unknown plateau, tears standing up in my eyes
and an ancient hunger in my throat, a hunger….
~Maxine Kumin from “Hay”

filling
filling up

haybarnfull

My parents knew that ancient hunger, both born on farms with teams of horses that brought in hay the old way while the children tramped and stamped the loose piles firm.

I’ve known that ancient hunger, having grown up on a farm that brought in to the barn loose hay the old way by tractor and wagon, having danced in the dusty sun motes on the top of the hay on a bright afternoon, the light cut in stripes over the sweet smelling grass.

We’ve made sure our three children knew that ancient hunger, born to a farm that brought in hay bales stacked to the rafters through community effort, those same dusty sun motes swirling about their heads as they learned their jobs, from bale rolling to lifting to tossing and stacking.

And now the next generation of neighborhood children arrive with shouts on haying days to clamor up and down the bale mountains, answering to the same hunger, blowing the same dusty snot and thrilling to the adventure of tractors, wagons and trucks, celebrating the gathering in of sun-dried manna together.

Surely this is what heaven will be like: we are all together, dancing in the light of the sun motes, our hunger filled to the brim by manna provided from above.

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farmgirls

farmcrew

 

A Sprung Metronome

morning7616 morninghaze2

“A devout but highly imaginative Jesuit,”
Untermeyer says in my yellowed
college omnibus of modern poets,
perhaps intending an oxymoron, but is it?
Shook foil, sharp rivers start to flow.
Landscape plotted and pieced, gray-blue, snow-pocked
begins to show its margins. Speeding back
down the interstate into my own hills
I see them fickle, freckled, mounded fully
and softened by millennia into pillows.
The priest’s sprung metronome tick-tocks,
repeating how old winter is. It asks
each mile, snow fog battening the valleys,
what is all this juice and all this joy?
~Maxine Kumin “Almost Spring, Driving Home, Reciting Hopkins”

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These summer mornings I awake in a Hopkins landscape~
the priest who died too young at 44
would have created even more beauty
if he had lived twice as long,
combining words in suspended rhythm,
recreating the world outside our windows
entirely in our minds.

What is this joy I feel when witnessing
what must have moved him to write?
What could be more powerful
than words that awaken in us dawn’s redeeming light?

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Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “God’s Grandeur”
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To Catch the Sunset

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cupolawatson

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…he says
let’s walk up to the field and catch the sunset
and off we go, a couple of aging fools.

I hope, he says, on the other side there’s a lot
less work, but just in case I’m bringing tools.
~Maxine Kumin from “Chores”

sunset92horses4

sunset329164

When I pull open the barn doors
every morning
and close them again each evening,
as our grandparents did
one hundred years ago,
six rumbling voices
rise in greeting.
We exchange scents,
nuzzle each others’ ears,
rumble grumble back a response.

We do our chores faithfully
as our grandparents once did–
draw fresh water
into buckets,
wheel away
the pungent mess underfoot,
release an armful of summer
from the bale,
reach under heavy manes
to stroke silken necks.

We don’t depend
on our horses’ strength
and willingness to
don harness
to carry us to town
or move the logs
or till the soil
as our grandparents did.

Instead,
these soft eyed souls,
born on this farm
two long decades ago,
are simply grateful
for our constancy
morning and night
to serve their needs
until the day comes
they need no more.

And we depend on them
to depend on us
to be there
to open and close the doors;
their low whispering welcome
gives voice
to the blessings of
living on a farm
ripe with rhythms and seasons,
sunrises and sunsets,
as if yesterday, today and tomorrow are
just like one hundred years ago.

sunset611164

sunset42116

sunset52216

A Meadow to Wander

sunsettony2

On days when there was a break in the fighting, the two of us drank hot tea.
We were rattled by the same passions.
Both of us looked upon the world as a meadow in May
over which women and horses wander.

~Isaac Babel “The Story of a Horse”

War and détente will go on, détente and renewed tearings asunder,
we can never break free from the dark and degrading past.
Let us see life again, nevertheless, in the words of Isaac Babel
as a meadow over which women and horses wander.
~Maxine Kumin “Women and Horses”
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I believe in the gift of the horse, which is magic,
their deep fear-snorts in play when the wind comes up,
and the ballet of nip and jostle, plunge and crow hop.

I trust them to run from me, necks arched in a full
swan’s S, tails cocked up over their backs
like plumes on a Cavalier’s hat. I trust them
to gallop back, skid to a stop, their nostrils

level with my mouth, asking for my human breath
that they may test its intent, taste the lure of it.
I believe in myself as their sanctuary
and in the earth with its summer plumes of carrots,

its clamber of peas, beans, masses of tendrils
as mine.
~Maxine Kumin from “Credo”

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So this is a picture of peacefulness,
the carelessness of a summer afternoon on horseback,
wandering along a hilltop
a gallop through a meadow,
a sharing of breath with an animal that chooses,
instead of running far away,
to circle around
and come back
again and yet again.

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