Terrain.org Columns.
View Terrain.org Blog.


Nick Ripatrazone


Work: Herding

Two-hundred fifty head of them. Black, almost blue, piebald calves grazing in crabgrass. Heads low.  Riders in a line in front of them, forearms crossed on the heads of horses. Pistols snapped and hidden, but loaded. Last cowboy on the left, Pitch, caught sniffing around his wife’s sister.  Said he meant no harm. No man ever does. Women do, though. When they cheat they do so with purpose. Like Ms. Wilcox, headmistress of the farm, with her tired face but young hands. Her eyes alive. Stories about her in the guesthouse, pillowcases stamped with blush. They called the one calf who always left the fold Wilcox. She could somehow stray under clear sight; once they found her near a Norway maple flayed by heavy wind. Pitch remembered it well: he’d doctored the tree, mixed cement in a wheelbarrow and stuck the trunk. Wilcox was there even then, hands behind her back, next to her husband. One kept the other in line.


Listen to Nick Ripatrazone read "Work: Herding:"



Work: Milling

Pestle-ground grain. Indian corn rubbed against a grater; meal collected on cloth. Sifted to mush, sifted to dust, beneath boots (a cousin from Missouri was found in the barn barefoot, heeling about, smelling like summer for days afterward). Grain sacks on the bottom level, formed like bloated stomachs, leaned against the back wall. More hemp than flax, woven by Vanessa, loom off the side of the kitchen. Her braided hair tucked behind thin ears. She liked the feel of cloth more than wheat, and she left the grain to her brother and sold mantas with stripes and bands (they were dyed with cochineal and globemallow). Rung as dry as the grain. All moisture sucked into steam, into clouds.


Listen to Nick Ripatrazone read "Work: Milling:"



Work: Fishing

Not work. Hours on the Susquehanna, in mid-afternoon, when most people think walleye hide, when bass troll the bottom. Most people are wrong about fishing. There is little to know. He went to an Orvis camp when he was twelve and watched a seasonal park ranger model a fly cast using a metronome. He took his sister’s metronome from the baby grand in the dining room and put it in his johnboat, floating in the farm pond. There is no meter to a regular cast, though, only placement and pace. Under willow branches, in pockets shadowed by pairs of evergreens. Some afternoons are good. This one is great: seven trout taken with only nightcrawlers and leaders. But he is lost in some thought, and close to shore rock punctures the hull. Water soothes across fiberglass, giving the trout new breath: they flap, blood electric. He stuffs the hole with a balled sweater and the canoe lolls. He catches his breath though he hadn’t realized he’d lost it, the sliding sets of eyes watching.


Listen to Nick Ripatrazone read "Work: Fishing:"



Work: Landscaping

Walk-behind, orange-decked lawnmowers in the county garage. Pushed onto the truck’s trailer, hitched with jumper cords. Once we hitched the mower with twine, to see if it would stay: the drive was slow, our eyes locked on the rear-view. Three hours spent at the Weights and Measures building: mowing the back hill, slope muddied from Saturday rain. Sun hidden behind clouds so the wind blew cold on bare arms and legs, the same skin later pasted green and black from weed-whacking in the parking lot, thrown gravel peppering the brick-backed building. Abandoned. We sat in the bed of the truck and ate pork-roll sandwiches with warm chocolate milk. Then we looked inside the building: rows of scales with county seals.  We couldn’t see the dust but knew it coated every inch.


Listen to Nick Ripatrazone read "Work: Landscaping:"



Work: Gardening

Hired last winter after the previous groundskeeper, a Swedish husbandman, retired to Georgia, an expanded ranch on the edge of a state park. Earned a certificate in horticulture from the state university and a license to operate backhoe from the county. Learned afterward the license wasn’t necessary. Garden 50 by 50, tucked in the center of the property (owners were the Ladd sisters, runners of a defunct convalescence home, now convalescents themselves). Planted hop hornbeam in a weaving row, bark looked scarred but layered. Candytuft between rocks, red-lavender flowers fluttered even when air was still. Purple-flowered scabiosa. Always cut them at the stalk for when the Ladd sisters visited. Two weeks out of the year they returned home, slept in their old beds, ate at their old table, and sniffed the old flowers. They would wilt soon, but for those two weeks they bloomed.


Listen to Nick Ripatrazone read "Work: Gardening:"



Nick Ripatrazone is the author of Oblations (Gold Wake Press 2011), a book of prose poems. His recent work has appeared in Esquire, The Kenyon Review, West Branch, The Mississippi Review, and Beloit Fiction Journal.
View Comments   :   Post Comment   :   Print   :   Blog   :   Next   


Post Comment

Name (required):

Email (required but not displayed):

Comment (required):

Enter Security Code Shown Below:








Home : Terrain.org. Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments.