Sunday, May 24, 2015

Backroads \ What We Pass Along

Nancy: The cabin’s weathered grey, there’s an irremediable leak in the roof, but my windowsills bloom and petunias brighten the doorstep.


We ask green things to stand for us
against reality.
Those plants, lined up along the sill,
defy the snow,
and steal the meager winter light,
and grow.
And gardens live in tins
and tires,
to bloom against unpainted walls,
to shut out heat,
and dust;
to fight defeat.
And will they stand for us when we are gone –
a flower in the woods,
a tree,
a shadow on the wall –
become reality?

Alan: I still wear my Sears overalls, knees worn, seams half-torn, with my name and “Stone Man Farm” stitched on it, from all those years ago.

What We Pass Along

We called it a farm but it was in our dreams only.
And what did we mean, anyway?
A place to grow some vegetables,
run a few chickens, sell the surplus –
where? no farmers’ markets around here then.
The dream added a cart,
whimsically painted, by the roadside.

That’s what we called it: farm.
The old folks who knew farming,
and even those middle-aged who remembered
grammy and grampy’s place outside town,
from when they were kids,
must have smiled secretly, too polite
to swamp us in the cold squall of history.

“Farm” meant a few cows anyway,
maybe pigs, beef critters, a couple acres potatoes,
or for the ambitious, hen pens full of layers,
and hayfields, hayfields for sure.
Dairy went bust in the ‘50s
when they went to all stainless and bulk tanks
– old Daisy couldn’t pay for that!

The hen pens went out with the railroad
and the cost of trucked feed.
If you were a gambler, you could go broke
on bull semen and bank loans.  No one
had those big flat fields like up in The County,
it was all patchwork, you got by
with loggin’ or truckin’ or fishin’.  Mix-and-match.

Still, we called it a farm,
drove 60 miles each way to meetings
of the Ag Committee, sat around the table
with a few other confused homesteaders,
picked up the buzz on “micro-business,” “entrepreneurship,”
learned how to wrap green foil around potted plants
to make ‘em shiny so they’d sell,

learned about gunk-holes (“everybody needs a gunk-hole out back –
that’s where you dump stuff to rot”), learned the mantra
“alders to goats to pigs to chickens to good, black soil.”
Wondered what happened to 4-H,
heard that parents hated the thought of their kids
in coveralls and muck, that’s what
they’d left behind twenty years before.

We were too late to farm, it seems, and the place was no good for it.
That’s why we found just a few half-swallowed fieldstones
where a barn was, bricks where a chimney fell,
a rusty stove door, axle, empty bottle of Antiphlogistine, good for man and beast,
but no reliable water, no sign of a garden,
nothing you could press your hand down into
and say, “here’s where things will grow.”

We were too late.  We were too early.
We were too poor.
There are farms now, again.
Mostly people from away, and a few locals
who never gave up or came back to it
after working somewhere else for awhile.
Eat at the New Friendly.  We know who grows their spuds.

There’s great yogurt down the road toward the village –
take the lane past the Jerseys (they’re gentle).
If you’re feeling flush, order a whole
organic free-range chicken, all prepared,
right from the back door, as good as anything
in Boston or New York.  We hear wool is coming back,
and wheat: “artisanal,” small-scale.  Fitting in.

Our farm was just a name and a dream.
We had to move, after more than 30 years.  It got too hard.
But still we go back sometimes.  To us it’s still home.
We see now that the place itself was the seed
and we had all the soil we needed in our hearts,
and our crops were poems.
That’s what fed us.  That’s what we pass along.

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