After a Visit to Orland

The dog saw a wagon, alone in a parking lot.He barked.

In the dark and the rain, a man in a hooded coat
picked up papers that fell and got wet. 
The rest were covered up.

He’s delivering the news today in the rain. 

I wanted to offer him a ride
since I know how hard that is –

hauling a wagon with slatted sides,
before the sun comes up,

when it’s rainy, cold and dark.

But here I am in my house,
underneath the yellow lamp,
at a kitchen table tiled clean and white. 
The furnace kicks on to keep us warm. 
Everything works.

 I will watch the sun come up
through a window facing east
while up in Orland, Dave
comes down with his dog, Chance,
and raises the shade. 

Across the street is a river,
the one that flows by his garden
with the high bush blueberries
and the high bush cranberries
and roots left from Ginny’s vegetables. 

The chickadees are bold
flit about a bough.
Dave puts on his orange knitted cap. 
“May be venison for lunch.”

On a neighbor’s lot, through the wooded way, we hear a shot. 

A deer is down, a deer whose ears had just been alert. 
Now they fold as a rivulet runs
from a chest that slows, seeping into the ground. 

The hunter’s boots approach.  A job is done. 
It is just this way.  He thinks nothing of it,
the gutting of the stomach,
and the deer is gone. 

It has skittered off –
though its body lies on the ground. 

The wood holds many spirits
of those felled by hunters and loggers –
and crosses to bloom in the spring
when the ground gives up its hardness. 

There will be an amaryllis on the hearth,
on the mantle next to the bookcase. 

I have visited rooms like Dave’s,
rooms where couples stay married
displaying pictures of their family,
where Sundays are reading aloud,
a new poem, the wife in intense concentration,
then a smile of recognition. 

Whether or not it’s a “good” poem,
she nods her head affirming,
Yes.  You are my husband. 
You are known. Life is certain

although she knows it’s not,
knows the midwife and the children who might not come,
the baby clothes one doesn’t buy until after delivery.  She knows,
but still she spreads her brightly colored tablecloth. 
She serves tea and gingerbread,
lights the candles on the mantle,
lowers the shades,
each small thing a ritual
to keep a life on track

It’s deer hunting season, almost Thanksgiving. 
The men rise when it is still dark. 
They can see their breath when they speak,
but they speak little, only jovially,
when they meet at their trucks,
hoist their rifles up
and walk out into the woods. 

They are searching for bucks, but a large doe will do. 
The brine bucket waits back home in the shed
next to the garden tools. 

A man gets off a steamer,
hauls his trunk up onto his back. 
So stooped, he walks up the gangplank
and leaves his youth. 

The lines are cast off. 
He doesn’t turn to say goodbye to it. 

He walks up the cobblestone path. 
The trolleys go back and forth. 
He finds a boarding house. 

Somewhere, at supper, he meets
a woman called “Brownie.” 
She enchants him with her laugh,
and he sees --

how a man can grow tomatoes in a backyard he owns,
fenced in by a fence he built,
clothes cleaned and hung on a clothesline. 
The cobblestones become surrounds
to hold in the rambling mint. 

She grows fond of her cherry tree,
bent with snow, draped
 over the path.  Its blossoms drop.

Then, in a bad storm, a Nor’easter,
the trunk is split. 
He cuts it down. 
She doesn’t forgive him
although he couldn’t fix it. 

Tis not about reason, these grudges we hold. 
Tis about what we wanted each other to be
and weren’t.  There’s no justice in it. 

Still there are the irises. 
They stand stout and open for Easter. 
We should remember this in the dark,
when the days are short,
when the sun does not want to rise
because it will rain all day and freeze. 

We should remember the deer in the wood,
the one that lay down, the one a hunter leans over
not because he’s mean, because that’s just how it’s done. 

And the one that skittered off,
the one that remains,

while we live next to what’s left
of the trees the neighbor cut down
to make room for his truck.

Lillian Baker Kennedy
November 2004

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