Arcadia by Partridge Boswell
In the milk-eye of a dying ewe, unfathomable sky. Crouched in mudshit straw
you cradle her neck while the young vet eases a syringe under her shoulder
and cries—an unconditional friend for life. Her embrace recedes past men,
pausing at the woods’ far edge. The river shadows a train’s bent moan
threading the valley below. Come spring you’ll find her bleached bones
scattered like signs by coydogs in the back pasture, your first lesson in
the futility of burial. You were new to this too, learning what earth preordained
and what would grow or fade with neglect—from damp leaves under an outcrop,
defiant tines of horsetails—or else the hard art of noticing without grieving:
paddock superseded by burdock and thistle, rats that scurried from sweet feed
bins at the barn door’s roar to hide in old bales, molasses warm on their breath.
If a mud-matted ruminant has a soul, how not a man? How did you watch a single
hawk carry away an entire flock of cochins and imagine you wouldn’t be
devastated and revived by soulful and soulless alike, saints and scum hanging
thick as webs of haydust from the rafters? Tossing and stacking the loft,
load after load in hundred degree heat, sweat-drenched skin plastered with
dried grains and motes of clover and timothy, then sitting on porch steps at dusk
while kids build and defend castles of hay, amnesty of burnt arms and necks—
nothing more needing to be lifted beyond the G major resonance of muscle at rest.
The land lingers suspended in benediction. The homeless come home with the same
dream they lit out with slung over their shoulder, scuffed and worn but unchanged
as the eyes of an old friend you assumed you’d never live to see again.
Between garden, flock and field of rocks, what was it you were farming exactly?
Everything else the runoff takes with it come spring, leaching down to the lees
of a manure-fed cattail pond, where rumor has it the pope once swam
naked as the sun when he was the schoolmate of neighbors from
the old country. Before he was the pope, before he was anyone.