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
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.