Nervous breakdown. Left the hoe-down. Left the hay bales, kale and Brussel Sprouts. Left the apples’
Frozen spoils, corvids coring them With smart, sharp beaks, scattering Apple-pulp to the brook-trout.
Drove through the scarped Greens, Body deep in the stuff of home, dry As bone, granite. Drove away.
Spun roulette wheels beneath a chassis, Swerved with city-smarts, on the verge Of migraine, pain of
What’s shed, what’s housed, what’s had. Arrived with the verve of someone Auditioning Broadway
For a bit part in anonymity, And dowsing for the downside of fortune Found a walk along the Hudson
Bracing. Found the stiff admixture Of freshwater undercut by brackishness, Brash Atlantic overwriting
Every tributary with a local name, Erasing any trace of home, replacing It with one vast abrasive.
End of August
Brittle, blond grasses of a pasture That’s gone uncut, unproductive all summer. I’ve called and called but the young farmer Says he’s got better-yield fields to mow and bale. Now he arrives to say, my crappy hay Will fetch a lousy sales price; it’s full Of vetch and bedstraw and lacks The stuff that makes horses happy or frisky, Legumes and clover and such… They’ve only got One goddamn gut, he says, not four like a cow. Don’t want ‘em gettin’ hay-belly on empty calories, He says. Like what you been doin’, he says, poking My gut. Well, shit, why’d you wait so long To cut my field, asshole, I say. He says, When’s the last time you fed it what comes out The asshole, asshole—you know, cow-shit, chicken- Shit, horse-shit… Don’t you know fields need it To regenerate? I wish he weren’t So cantankerous on a tractor, so honest- Abe about the chaff from the hay, or whatever… His words scatter my thoughts like a tedder, Toss them on horse-shit and horse- Sense and hindgut of horse versus The four-chambered stomach of cow. That’s What I’m chewing on. Did I evolve Like the horse, to be on the move, drift Across grasses toward my next lean meal? Or did I, somewhere along the way, turn Domestic as a heavy-bellied sow or cow? I sit down amidst the hayfields And tally the lean years From the fat… until my paunch overhangs My pants. And now It’s late August, dust heavy on the leaves. Young farmer’s not even baling The worthless stuff—just fluff, He says, with no known nutrients.
Five years in this city and I haven’t written A spring poem. I need to learn how to put A passing cloud inside the steel and glass Of a mid-town high-rise; put a blooming Tulip tree beside the downtown doorman With his long-stemmed dustpan and brush scooping Up fallen petals along with a dog’s Business on the sidewalk; put the man with The leaf-blower (hey buddy, it’s just spring!) Beside the house sparrow with its beak caught In a grate. Put car exhaust with the leaves That will recycle it. My mind needs to bloom New relations: the park raccoon and his Country cousin, the dumpster seagull and his Seacoast double. For every farmer’s daughter I celebrate in the hay, there’s a woman in furs Clacking down Broadway with 9-inch heels Who is her own pedestal. Oh, what shall I do with this city’s profusion? Come to think of it, spring’s like that, the tulips abundant, unstable, Unstoppable, cherry blossoms making me Forget what I was thinking—I was thinking The Hudson really is a magnificent Ocean channeled all the way to Poughkeepsie! All that sparkle and salt mixed with something Smelling of bed-rolls and clothes slept in for months. I was thinking—All that piney solitude I had in Vermont, traded for a city Heavy on irony, denaturing Nature As that old broad or god we haven’t the Leisure or need or magical thinking To long for—suddenly, over the horn-honk In grid-lock, over sirens of fire and emergency, Comes the obliterating rumble of thunder, The cloudburst held in a fisted nimbus From—of all places I thought I’d never Utter—New Jersey, that land so fertile, So full of spring, we loved it to death.
Neil Shepard’s sixth and seventh books of poetry were both published in 2015: Hominid Up(Salmon Poetry, Ireland) and a full collection of poems and photographs, Vermont Exit Ramps II (Green Writers Press, Vermont). His poems appear online at Poetry Daily,Verse Daily, and Poem-A-Day (from the Academy of American Poets), as well as in several hundred literary magazines. He taught for many years in the low-residency MFA Program at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, as well as in the BFA writing program at Johnson State College in Vermont, and he edited the literary magazine Green Mountains Review for a quarter-century. These days, he teaches at Poets House in Manhattan.