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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Linda Bidwell

Harold phoned this morning at eight
to say he had culled from his immense archive
an article about Summit,
which he left in our garage on a shelf,
under a coffee can, next to the wall
(lest it be lost).
He farms this archive in his little green house
while his many brothers, with more profit,
apply themselves to the land, and the wood lot.
“Summit was settled later
than the surrounding area.
At 2200 feet, it is ten degrees colder.”
(Don’t we know it.)

Harold’s place was never a farm–
sitting perched on the roadside
with its complementary shed
just before the ground drops off
for good.  There’s hardly room
for the dog to lie down.
What he and his mother did there
all those years, I haven’t asked:
Harold so strange, the house in decay–
its few windows dim with plastic sheets.
His conversation consists
of quips and provocation
(the flaps of his helmet unleashed to the wind).
“Legend has it an early resident
was an Indian woman,
who bore a bastard child.
Elders of the tribe met and decided
to drown it in the lake,
as punishment.”

This, I feel, is meat to Harold,
who eats no ordinary food.
Chirpy Wendy’s on with the ski report.
Meanwhile the fog’s so thick you can’t see
six feet in front of your face.
And it’s raining.
It was sleet before, when
Maria from next door phoned
from Queens to ask if the plow came
to clear their driveway–
which we told her the other day
had twelve feet of snow in it, at least,
so if they wanted to come for the weekend
bring skis, or fly in.
It’s a Jack London trip,
driving up the hill:
you feel in your pocket for matches.
What we wouldn’t give now
for the sun rising blood-orange
over the Middle Fort,
emptying beds like dynamite;
for dust-fuzz on the screens
from farm machinery and passing cars;
for the smell of hot tomatoes,
hot stones, wet grass;
for the feel of well-being,
in a room buttery with the sun
and blue-green like the sea
from the teak and undulant deck
of a slow ship on the Atlantic.
It’s good that the road
has lane lines–
yellow in the middle
(sometimes double),
white on the outside–
lest the unwary car,
its driver squinting
through the windshield,
misses a vital turn
and careens off into Wharton’s Field
or, worse yet, into a mammoth
pile of rock left
when the road was cut.
Ahead, a curtain of cloud
drifts across Wharton’s mountain,
and all around the sky has let down
its lowest occlusion
to hamper the way home.
* * * *
In case you doubt this eyeless state
persists beyond a day or two in spring,
I hasten to report a Bermuda high has replaced it
with a haze so thick the mountains
are blue and gray with it.
But, despite the heat and the haze
and other hardships of upstate life,
it’s time to deal with the rilesome woodchuck.
Bruce digs up the fence to lay
another roll of chicken wire
at its base, where last year he piled bricks
the woodchuck mocked.
He mocked the fox urine, too,
the cayenne pepper, and the trap.
He laughed at the trap,
and was last seen in the fall
grazing on a chairleg
on the porch.
Over the winter he depredated
the shed. Our dearest wish
was to retire him to the forest.
And so it happened,
by the new expedient of placing
the trap next to his hole
which was invisible last year.
The next day the woodchuck
was stuck fast in the trap
and was transported to the third lake
in our chain—to the highest hill
in the deepest shade.
Now, having to turn around,
or back out of the trap,
he wouldn’t. Thus two grown men
upended it and shook and shook
until the woodchuck unclenched his toes
and let go.
* * * *
“Never think,” the local trapper warned,
“there’s only one.” And so there wasn’t.
Between the smoke from the tractor pull
and the downpour at six o’clock,
I manfully man my Party’s booth
on behalf of our Senate candidate;
on behalf of County Democrats;
on behalf of Summit’s little club.
Today we have the hottest weather
of the summer.  The heat melts
our outer layers of skin.
They run down and pool
in our waistbands.
We drink water;
we drink iced teas;
we drink lemonades.
We stand in the tunnel
of the long aisle
waiting for a breeze
to work its way forward
from the back doors.
I chat with the Land Trust
and my friend in the booth.
I agree with older ladies–
the ones whose careers, whose married lives,
began in the Eisenhower years.
They come in their cotton dresses,
their sleeveless blouses,
to say they’re with our candidate.
I argue with a man,
a friend of my friend,
about guns and the health care
system.  Later, my friend says
this guy eats peanut butter with a spoon,
out of the jar — a jar a day.
He has lots of guns and peanut butter.
I say he’d better revise his position
on the health care system.
At nine o’clock, it rains again.
This time the drops are the size
of teacups.  They hit the roof
like stones and drive people
indoors. We have to rush the candidate
to cover.
And then it’s over.  My point?
I have none, nor much effect.
My friend later tells the club
I bested the gun guy.
But I dare say he’s still got his guns.
(Of course, his arteries
may have done him in.)
when I read the screed
“Vote Obama, Lose our Liberty”
in the Gazette,
I fire another blank round.
Waking up at dawn among the mountains:
the dead quiet; a pink haze starting
in the huge pale sky; each succeeding range
of hills a slightly different shade.
An arresting conformation:
like China on a plate.
It’s another country.
(When the clocks are put back,
I shall slacken my visits.)
At six, I pick up my book: the first
of Shelby Foote’s exhaustless chronicles
of the Civil War.  I’m deep in Tennessee:
Johnson’s Confederate army, and Grant’s –
the latter disposed “for comfort and convenience,”
and Grant commuting to the field.
The sun’s been curing his men,
but they are not dug in.
Buell’s Army is coming up–
Pope’s army of the Mississippi, summoned.
“Now is the moment to advance,”
Beauregard writes… “with the Federals
in their camp.”
At six, the sun breasts the earthworks,
blinding and garish as a bursting shell.
With the light, the mist intensifies;
fuses are lit at Shiloh Church.
The trick is not to misconstrue
the silence.  Pairs of lights have been
probing the hill–gobbling up your pickets–
while you boil the coffee, and bake the biscuit.
Linda writes: I received a BA in History from the State University of New York at Albany in 1965 and an MA in Literature from the National University of Ireland, Cork, in 1989.  I was also co-author of the book The Joycean Way: A Topographic Guide to ‘Dubliners’ and ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a YoungMan’, (Wolfhound Press, Dublin & Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1981), and author of several papers for the American Conference for Irish Studies.
       We moved to Summit, Schoharie County, New York, in 1998, which makes us “transits,” in the old nomenclature.  Schoharie is a rural county, in conventional histories known as the “Breadbasket of the Revolution.”  More popularly and now, happily, inhabitants identify themselves as “Sloughters,” a term whose origin is disputed, and whose meaning varied according to the class of outrageous individuals it was being applied to.
       The folks in my poems are, mostly, “natives.”


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