A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
A gorgeous day in May, leaves in pastel, serviceberry flowers popped out, conspicuous at our field’s edge. Two warblers keep flitting in and out of view. A brilliant cardinal twitters from a basswood, which longs to burst into bloom. For some reason I think of that woman in the most famous of Wallace Stevens’s poems, the one who feels complacencies of the peignoir on a morning like this.
For my near neighbor Dub, COVID or no COVID, it’s a working day at the abattoir. For whatever reason, his time off comes midweek. The gap between some lives and others can be distressing, if we ponder it at all.
There are those, of course, who on picturing Dub will swallow a yawn, I’m sure. I understand. He doesn’t seem in any way exotic, nor does his lousy job. Even in these days when so many of us have self-quarantined, he leaves his trailer just before seven, spends all day in the slaughterhouse, drives home just after five, cracks open a Bud, and that’s about that but for a sitcom or two, provided they air early enough. Eight hours of doing what Dub does would tire anyone.
How, for example, might the permanent stains on his hands concern you? To be frank, I don’t know. I don’t know what I make of such a thing myself. Dub and I are friendly enough, but we I don’t engage in much beyond small talk.
I do know that his left ring finger was hewn at the knuckle quite some years ago. If I think hard enough, I can remember when he was secretive about that injury. He kept the disfigured hand in his pocket or behind his back as much as he could. Maybe he was afraid we would judge him badly for awkwardness, or would simply find the stub unsightly. He’s well past such concerns by now, it appears.
Did he cut the finger off with a saw? With a knife? I have no idea. I try not to look at the maimed part, much less ask about it.
I can imagine some artsy type –one with a minor version of Wallace Stevens’s sensibility, perhaps– likening the flow of his blood that day to a meteor shower or some such fanciful thing, a gesture, I think, that would be worth jack shit. Come to think of it, I’ve always been given pause on reading a certain passage in another Stevens poem:
At dawn, The paratroopers fall and as they fall They mow the lawn.
My guess is that those paratroopers might see the matter rather differently. But Stevens could get away with writing that, first, because he was a great poet and, second, because he was insured.
Dub has a cousin here in the village. Everyone calls him Croaky– just another working stiff, one who fells and splits hardwood for those who can afford it for their fireplaces. Many of them ask for white birch, which Dub calls “professor-wood.” Quite a few teach at the local college, and they like how birch looks in the hearth before the fire is kindled, and how it crackles and snaps when the bark catches. Birch isn’t much for coals, though.
Does it run in the family or something? Croaky pulverized his tibia in 2000. They say he was swinging his maul when a toad hopped out of the grass and caught his attention. The hammer glanced off the block and slammed his shin. That’s when people pinned the nickname on him, and it stuck. His name and his limp are the wages, many may assume, of being feral and crude and careless.
Dub’s stump, Croaky’s lop-sided walk– how should we treat such matters? Not at all, I suspect. Better to warm ourselves by our cozy fireplaces, complacent, dreaming of tropics, or high art, or refreshing morning dew. So much is there for us after all. We only need a little time and leisure.
Mind you, I say we. I have no right to sanctimony.
Copyright 2021 Sydney Lea
Sydney Lea was Poet Laureate of Vermont (2011-2015). A recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim, Rockefeller and Fulbright Foundations, Lea founded, and for thirteen years edited, NEW ENGLAND REVIEW.