WALKING IN THE AFTERNOON: I
Sometimes the breadth of the world startles me.
New England is hewn out of granite.
Generations broke their backs on the soil.
People still live at this ruined house:
a man, hair grey, comes in from building a wall,
strips the stained shirt from his back
and calls for a drink. Later, his wife
will make honey and herbs into a poultice,
to ease the pull of time on his body.
Twenty years earlier, she delivered her son
herself, cries going unheeded in these woods,
where nowadays coyotes gabble like party-goers
and bittersweet springs up bright through the chimney-breast.
He died near his fourteenth birthday, winter sapping
the strength from his lungs, devouring his breath.
A bad time: he’s buried here, not a church, stone carved
by grief, a nearly-expert hand honed by loss
and by tilling the earth for rocks, trading them
for pulses, grains, tubers—anything
that will last until spring. He and his wife
lived to be sixty. Somewhere their life is
pieced into a quilt, Sunday bests and nightclothes
rendered equal, side by side. Now the saplings
reach over this tumbled wall. Their roots mine beneath.
In the old sitting room, creepers unfurl their leaves
in the sunshine. Poison ivy guards the last stair.
This is all there is, and all there ever was.
If I walked on, I would find
a dozen other stories like this.
That there is history is a testament to wilfulness,
determination to shape the unshapeable.
I need to be home before nightfall. Behind me
the song of a cardinal. I crush mushrooms
underfoot, and the smell of old earth
surrounds me. Animals rustle and hush.
Home, I rock in my chair.
The darkness is absolute. Raccoons scream.
Bittersweet bursts on my mantle like a flame.
First published in The Connecticut River Review.
© Jennifer A. McGowan 2011, 2014