Farm Eight

If this were 1781 or 1856 I’d write the weekly letter home.

“Dearest Mother, How is Aunt Maybelle? Tell her not to take too much of the laudenum. As it is habit forming.

“As for myself I am confined to my room with a corona sickness. But do not fear. I know that my redeemer liveth and by the grace of God I shall come through. Do not worry over much.”

But this isn’t something to write home about. It’s the damned flu is all and I need someone to poke a hole in my head to relieve the pressure. For all its side effects trepanning had its advantages.

I fell asleep and in my nap I found myself on a farm crouched on the ground at the foot of a deep hedgerow. Something was calling to me. It was necessary to humble myself with an ear to the ground and an eye in the dirt to peer into the dim tangle of undergrowth.

In a moment I saw something I hesitate to describe. No doubt some will judge me to be touched. I don’t doubt it, but that’s beside the point.

It was a family of field mice just sitting down to supper. The table was simply but neatly laid. Grandfather was present (he was the one moving slow, as he seemed to have a bum leg, deformed, perhaps, by an unfortunate encounter with some sort of spring-loaded contraption), and there were, I think, only 15 children.

The sound of the tiny dinner bell is what had drawn my attention. Such a cozy, home-spun simplicity was something of which Thoreau would have been proud. I wished I could join them, the feeling was so strong.

It was a peaceful rural scene to be sure, and my perspective on small agri-rodents changed forever.

But alas, the moment left as quickly as it came. The scene was withdrawn from me, so I withdrew my head from the hedge in resignation and found myself in bed sick again, drooling from the mouth and snotting (?) from the nose.

“Dearest Mother, believe me when I say that to judge another species from recycled hearsay and fairy tales is the height of foolishness.

“Also, it is a good idea to lay on your back whilst napping.”

side show

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He’d been traveling miles on miles of six-lane traffic, barreling down freeway straightaways, through turnpike twists and turns – the usual stuff he was used to navigating. He was mind-weary and soul-embattled.

On a whim he took an unmarked turnoff he’d always ignored because it was out of his way, never considering that perhaps it was the out-of-the-way stuff that held the most beauty and wonder. His life replete with ignored things. His own humanity, for one. Also, that thing that talked in the back of his preferred thoughts like some backstage voice that wasn’t written into the script but insisted on having a say, even if no one listened. This time he would listen.

He came to a street where the trees looked weary, shot through with ennui. No other vehicles nor movement. A tree isn’t a tree if no one’s there to see.

He parked and walked into some kind of market square, empty except for one or two souls unremarkable in the distance. There was an alcove or outdoor lobby cut into the side of this and he walked in. No one there. The shadowed stone echoed even with his small footstep. The sound of abandonment. But no graffiti or obvious rot. To his left, ensconced into the wall, some kind of kiosk. Approaching it he looked at the screen and the keypad below it. Screen was dark, keypad triggered nothing.

He walked back out and farther into a wide-open space of uncertain purpose. An old pond with a fountain that had gone dry, made of the same bland stone as the rest. Vast concrete yard more vacuum than anything else. Here and there weathered signs that read: Nurses needed Teachers needed Cooks needed Bus Drivers needed Daycare Workers needed Harvest Workers needed Mental Health Providers needed, Cops needed.

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There was motion and sound to his left and he turned to see a caravan of curious figures parading from a wide paved walkway that fed back into a stand of trees that seemed to be quite alive. Gradually these motleys filled the yard and set up an instantaneous carnival or some such. Hawkers pulling wagons of wares, someone juggling, a bearded conehead walking deftly on his hands, smiling upside down. Children roaming aimlessly, laughing at things as if on cue. Music from somewhere made on cheap string instruments and tin horns, thin music of medieval peasants maybe, meant to be forgotten tomorrow.

He turned again to see three women atop a platform hastily erected and wearing sheets wound haphazardly around their frames, looking for all the world like puppet theater fertility goddesses, and one of them – a big-figured gal – lost the top of her cover and a pendulous ash-colored breast flopped and jiggled as they danced an improvised jig.

He turned away, partly in disgust but mostly in surprise. Another moment of witnessing this entire spectacle and it occurred to him that the world had maybe shifted on its axis and he hadn’t seen it coming.

He was back in his car before he was aware of it. He turned a tight U and gunned the engine and as he drove away he took a deep breath and thought: well, you never know until you try.

number 12 chair

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She was standing at the kitchen sink, domestically engaged in a general way. Maybe washing dishes or wiping down the counter. But she stood on a stool because she wasn’t yet tall enough without it. She had a sufficiently busy, responsible air about her, as if she’d maybe been put in charge of the place.

“My sister can’t sit in a number 12 chair,” she said matter-of-factly. “But keep in mind that all things are possible.”

Had we been discussing number 12 chairs? What is a number 12 chair? It sounds like an institutional category, maybe something in school of which I’d been blissfully ignorant in my youth.

“What size chair do you use?” I would ask.

“A number 10,” she would reply. “My sister, if she were of average size for her age, would need a size 12. She’s four inches taller and 3.5 inches wider in the hips than anyone in her class. And, of course, ten degrees more beautiful.”

“How old is your sister?”

“Older than me.”


“Anyhow, my sister can’t sit in a number 12 chair. But keep in mind that all things are possible.”

Or had she been responding to an observation I’d made about her sister?

“How is your sister doing?” I would ask.

“She’s reasonably well if you don’t think about her condition.”

“What is her condition?”

“Chronic depression, secondary to unresolved issues with our late grandfather, who molested her as a toddler, always while seated in his number 12 chair.”

“That bastard.”

“Indeed. Upon his death she transferred her righteous indignation to the chair in which he’d sat, intent on posthumously neutralizing a domestic terrorist. One day she simply picked up a five-pound maul and put it out of its misery.

“But not hers?”

“Suffice it to say, my sister can’t sit in a number 12 chair. But keep in mind that all things are possible.”

In my mind, for all her diminutive stature and use of an aid, she is taller than me. I am looking up at her. This is curious, as it accentuates the advanced maturity of her age, her status as a leading figure in her demographic – if that’s not putting it too clinically. It serves to illustrate the importance of “sitting under” someone, of listening to her words. Which is to say, listening to her.

Perhaps we’d been on the subject of furniture in general.

“I think number 12 chairs are the most comfortable ever contrived by man,” I would say.

“Or woman,” she would reply.

“Touché. Do you like them?”

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“Number 12’s? Of course. They are both elegant and sufficiently functional.”

“Well, they are chairs, after all.”

“Nothing is that simple, alas. My sister can’t sit in a number 12 chair.”

“For heaven’s sake, why?”

“She’s irrationally afraid of them. The doctor says it’s idiopathic.”

“Sorry to hear it. Perhaps a shrink is in order.”

“She won’t hear of it. I’ve tried.”

“What a thing to live with.”

“But keep in mind that all things are possible.”

All of this from a random firing of synapses in that mysterious transition between unconscious napping and swimming back up to the surface of consciousness. I’ve experienced all kinds of curious things fly through my head during this brief phase. Snatches of melody; bursts of light like fireworks or lightning; someone yelling my name.

This time, a half-developed polaroid snapshot and this girl’s voice and for heaven’s sake I’ve no idea where it comes from:

My sister can’t sit in a number 12 chair. But keep in mind that all things are possible.

where it lies

she has a say in what this is

this sorrow taking residence in her bosom

staking a claim there, sure to make good

the urn she cradles in her hands

made of clay, like we all

goes before her, in solitary funeral march

against the wishes of her people

perhaps the law of the land

in coded disregard of their common end

the food of worms and purifying fire

wholly reduction of our earthy homes

to their component elements

and so going step in front of step

in divine obedience to her very heart and

the sweet, severe and redeeming verity of

spring’s insistent answer to winter’s demand

this knowing, knowing, knowing

traced in muted tracks of salt water

like misty waterfalls from her brave eyes

to where the arable soil meets the ageless sand

and the sand the salt-soaked seas of a million such tears

to stand there nobly broken and fragile strong

she opens the cradle of her swaddling hands

and lets pour herself as she might have been

upon the winds that bear her child’s bones

upon the hallowed waves of each days turbulent tide

for there are ways in which

these things ought to be done

and so

she will have her say in where it lies.

the rules for mules

the mules aren’t there

they’ve been put up

I don’t know the rules for this

oddly, I’m a little disappointed

they’re a fixture of my morning

picture of peace

when I was a child in the toy drawer

there was this picture

yellowing shellac over a cheap print on a

biased cut slab of cheap wood

mare and colt in the pasture

and even then I thought it was peace

and comfort and everything was going to be


of all the things in that boyhood drawer

this is what I still have

I don’t know where it is right now, though

and don’t care because

there’s the mules, may they safely graze forever

an enduring link to a child’s dream

that often did not come true

and they’re not there this morning

they’re put up

I don’t know the rules for this.