We went down the path between birches, alder and white pine, stone walls running off among them into the leafy distance of abandoned fields. A woodpecker beat larval delicacies from a dead chestnut tree lying among hundreds of others like dead soldiers on a hillside. Water blazed blue. The clarinet crying of loons met us to suggest the strangeness of the actual, its perfect lastness which is like friendship in the way one aches because of it and we wondered if we were really there, if our shadows
could hear us or if they had somehow their own lives and did not care.
You had decided our thoughts were not what we were saying, that intention was far behind us showing its blank cards to a dreamer who would laugh about it later and send obscure congratulations to the wrong address. Beside a tumbled foundation we found an ancient well, lifted the capstone and tasted the sweet, dark water that had been listening for the wish our shadows cast into its stillness, a stillness like that of the world itself when we should be through with it or it through with us.
When they tore down the barn they found bits of tack and harness sleeping like messages from the kingdoms of dirt and rust, shadows of ancient horses smoking out of them like sadness and blowing away.
When they ploughed up ground where the barn had been, they found the grave of a ’27 Ford pickup surgically altered to serve out its days as a poor excuse for a tractor.
They chopped down the orchard, dug out the berry rows, flattened the greenhouse, installed a paved lane and then a row of double wide rentals.
When at last nothing remained of the old place but the pit from which they had extracted the Ford, they planted a few petunias around it, imagine it might make a fine fish pond, and went away and forgot it.
Others came and built and stayed and went away. Rain continued in its season. Wind made its choral remarks. The cloudy light seemed to love nothing but black branches and grass, once in awhile a bright red leaf.
Among the logjams and flotsam north of Brown’s Landing, Negroes, as black people were then called, fished for channel cat and crappie.
Poor whites, loners, and teenage boys came there as well and threw things in or pulled them out or hid them in the flooded bushy inlets presumably
ignored by the constabulary. Sometimes night fishing there with lantern and a box of horrible Marsh Wheeling crooks, dark forms rose near us
like submarines listening, mystified Germans, perhaps, trapped there since the war and wondering if they should kill us or simply steal our catfish and cigars.
We never knew. We reached out with our flashlights and found the river meditative, clueless, and unitary as the sky where the huge chandelier
of the universe turned and sputnik scored its winking caveat: “There’s more up here than Heaven, boys. Breathe deep.” And so we did, while
below us, we were certain, more than fish circled and tugged at our lines with dark or bright mouths, with the hunger of all unknown things.
Christopher Howell has published 11 collections of poems, including Gaze (Milkweed Editions, 2012) and Dreamless and Possible: Poems New & Selected (University of Washington Press, 2010). He teaches at Eastern Washington University, in Spokane, and in the low-residency MFA program at Eastern Oregon University.