Nice morning for a run, although I wish it had been less humid and a few degrees cooler. Sunny, not too windy, a clear path. Was initially planning to run 8 miles and the double loop route, but felt too tired. Still pleased with 5.5 miles. Recited Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall.”
10 Things I Noticed
- The wind blowing the leaves off of the trees, sometimes looking like snow, sometimes a bird flying through the air
- (started at 8:45) Too crowded near my street — 3 runners, 2 different groups of walkers with dogs
- The welcoming oaks turning golden
- Multiple towers of stones stacked on the ancient boulder
- From the spot above the floodplain forest, the trees are not turning yet. Still green and airy and blocking a view of the river
- The all-white bike hanging from the trestle, memorializing the death of a biker a decade or so ago, decorated — flowers or something else?
- Nearing the franklin bridge, thinking I saw a rower on the river, then not finding it again as I ran across the bridge
- Trying to see the paved path down below on the east river side but not being able to — too much green
- Hearing big trucks beeping and bull-dozing down in the gorge
- The dark shadows of trees on the water
My grandfather killed a mule with a hammer,
or maybe with a plank, or a stick, maybe
it was a horse—the story varied
in the telling. If he was planting corn
when it happened, it was a mule, and he was plowing
the upper slope, west of the house, his overalls
stiff to the knees with red dirt, the lines
draped behind his neck.
He must have been glad to rest
when the mule first stopped mid-furrow;
looked back at where he’d come, then down
to the brush along the creek he meant to clear.
No doubt he noticed the hawk’s great leisure
over the field, the crows lumped
in the biggest elm on the opposite hill.
After he’d wiped his hatbrim with his sleeve,
he called to the mule as he slapped the line
along its rump, clicked and whistled.
My grandfather was a slight, quiet man,
smaller than most women, smaller
than his wife. Had she been in the yard,
seen him heading toward the pump now,
she’d pump for him a dipper of cold water.
Walking back to the field, past the corncrib,
he took an ear of corn to start the mule,
but the mule was planted. He never cursed
or shouted, only whipped it, the mule
rippling its backside each time
the switch fell, and when that didn’t work
whipped it low on its side, where it’s tender,
then cross-hatched the welts he’d made already.
The mule went down on one knee,
and that was when he reached for the blown limb,
or walked to the pile of seasoning lumber; or else,
unhooked the plow and took his own time to the shed
to get the hammer.
By the time I was born,
he couldn’t even lift a stick. He lived
another fifteen years in a chair,
but now he’s dead, and so is his son,
who never meant to speak a word against him,
and whom I never asked what his father
was planting and in which field,
and whether it happened before he married,
before his children came in quick succession,
before his wife died of the last one.
And only a few of us are left
who ever heard that story.
I found this poem today and picked it for my theme of approximate for a few reasons: 1. The “short story” is never quite “true” with details changing slightly, 2. it’s never quite a story with nothing really happening, 3. it’s not really (not exactly) about killing the animal but something else — what? the grandfather, family, the narrator’s father’s relationship with his dad, memory, passing on/remembering stories? I like this poem. At first, it’s strange and unsatisfying and confusing, but slowly it gives me images and makes me think about farming and my grandparents and illness and aging and how we remember and tell stories (and why). I think the vagueness/fuzziness of this poem makes it more powerful to me than another poem would that was sharper, more exact, more direct with details and with conjuring a scene of the grandfather.
Listening to my Daily Mix 4 on Spotify as I write this, and Jackson Browne’s “Doctor, my eyes” just came on. Because of the title I was curious, so I looked up the lyrics and read them as I listened. I liked his rhythms and slant rhymes (would they be called slant?). Thinking more about how vision works here…
Doctor, my eyes/ Jackson Browne
Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand
I have done all that I could
To see the evil and the good without hiding
You must help me if you can
Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what is wrong
Was I unwise to leave them open for so long?
‘Cause I have wandered through this world
And as each moment has unfurled
I’ve been waiting to awaken from these dreams
People go just where they will
I never noticed them until I got this feeling
That it’s later than it seems
Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what you see
I hear their cries
Just say if it’s too late for me
Doctor, my eyes
They cannot see the sky
Is this the prize
For having learned how not to cry?