Story takes part over 2 days, beginning on Thanksgiving morning, skipping into the late afternoon that day, then in two scenes the following day. The setting is the family farm, where Chlora is visiting.
1. Day Two — Thanksgiving Morning
Top of the morning to ya!
The President of America was on TV
pardoning a big fat turkey while in the farm kitchen
the incense of bacon, eggs, toast, and waffles
filled Thanksgiving morning. If there was ever a morning
that warranted just a meager bowl of Alpha Bits, this was it.
But NO—a hunter’s breakfast had been prepared
at the crack of dawn, and the men folk were already
out stomping in the woods tracking wild turkeys.
Breakfast number two, for the kids, was on its way.
Chlora suggested they turn off the presidential cartoon
and watch the Macy’s parade while gobbling down breakfast.
The Macy’s parade would certainly be more uplifting
While waiting out the scent of biscuits baking,
Chlora peeked in the storage closet under the stairs
to see if her toy barn was still there.
She’d made it herself last summer
when Uncle Ernest gave her some scraps of wood
and pieces of bent up tin for the roof.
He had set out a hammer and a handsaw and some nails
and simply said, good luck, little lady, with the tools.
Chlora had worked all day making that barn.
The darn barn, they called it afterwards.
Chlora always struggled with right angles.
The darn barn came out whopperjawed
It had cracks in the walls, and everything sloped.
But then the real barn looked like a tumbledown too.
Chlora made the toy barn as big as possible
with four parts that stacked up.
She wanted it to look like the one
in the American Gothic painting.
It sprawled out and opened up like a dollhouse
so you could play with its insides.
Uncle later gave her a handful of
mismatched brass hinges and handles
so the barn could fold up when not in use.
When is a barn ever not in use?
She screwed on all that hardware
but it never matched up right.
Silo, Plastic Figures
After a dig in the dark closet
Chlora found all the toy barn parts and hauled them
into the family room. The silo, made of round oatmeal
cartons was unfinished.
It was full of plastic farm animals
that used to belong to the boys.
She dumped them out near the warm floor vent
and spread everything around.
The inventory looked good.
There were more than two of each animal.
She could fill several Noah’s arks with this menagerie.
A few plastic army men were mixed in with the animals,
and some elephants and tigers,
the leftovers from a circus train.
She set these aside with the various farm implements
and military gear.
Next she played Last Judgment and
separated the sheep from the goats.
Then she divided the people from the machines,
to prevent any cross-breeding
which could result in chimera robots.
Under the coffee table the pigs and chickens
were making a joyful noise unto the Lord.
The multitude of cows and horses marched single file
all the way into the kitchen.
Everybody admired Chlora’s industriousness
as they gingerly stepped over the
little plastic fences.
A tiny metal tractor got kicked
and rolled under the fridge
where it would never be heard from again.
That was regrettable, as tractors
had a major role out here;
they had transformed this rugged
rural landscape into the bread basket it is.
Chlora had read about the tractors in the
French impressionist landscapes.
All those rich fields of crops due to the invention
of farm machinery, and nary a tractor in sight.|
Why did the artists leave them out?
Weren’t they pleased with their agricultural revolution?
It was like a sin of omission.
Mighty tractors could plow furrows into the rich soil,
the fertile earth yielding easily to the plow,
penetrating over and over again,
parting ways, widening the moist paths for planting.
Tractors could jut into mother earth,
and splice her wide open.
Chlora stacked up the barn on a rag rug.
Around it she spread out door mats and area rugs
as fields, knowing she would have to resort to
mules with plows attached to get the work done.
That would be a slow go.
Cousin Todd applauded her zest
for Manifest Destiny and recommended
redlining to keep out people of color.
Just what did he mean by that?
Chlora might have to resort to it, since there
were never enough fences to mark off the fields.
Her farm had no zoning, like Houston,
a cheek-to-jowl empire sprawl
befitting a caution from the Old Testament
where you are warned about joining barn unto barn.
Apparently God of the Bible was not into
empire building. Or exclusion.
Lineup of Plastic Animals
The line of animals almost reached the kitchen table
following the lead cow who
always knows where to go
when it is feeding frenzy time.
When the line fell short, Chlora resorted to
using the military, and inserted some
green plastic soldiers into the crowd.
Hopefully they wouldn’t get antsy
and shoot the animals.
Chlora asked her aunt what did sheep eat.
She already knew goats would eat anything at all,
like Bill Grogan’s Goat who ate a red flannel shirt
right off the line and flagged down a train.
How come Jesus didn’t like goats as much as sheep,
she asked. And also, if we Christians
are supposed to feed sheep,
we need to know what they like to eat.
Is there such a thing as sheep food?
You little city slicker, lambs feed on their mother’s milk.
And sheep eat grass, Aunt Helen said.
But Isaiah says surely the people are grass,
Chlora replied, so does that mean WE are their food?
Aunt Helen sighed and admitted that sometimes
farmers have to resort to pellet feed for the sheep
and there is a bag of feed in the barn if Chlora was interested.
A raspy sound came from the kitchen sink where
her Mom was scraping the burned toast.
Why do we always have to sacrifice the bread?
She handed Chlora a piece and told her to
give it to her sheep and goats.
About then, her brother spilled his grape juice
and it dribbled down the old highchair that he’d outgrown.
The toy goats on the floor were now
purple, but at least they’d had communion.
Juice dribbled through the gaps in the table,
attracting the dog below, who helpfully cleaned up the mess.
After a plastic pig was swallowed up by the floor vent,
the smell that permeated the kitchen
was not bacon but the putrid odor of burned plastic.
Uncle Ernest came in and retrieved the stinker from
the floor vent.
You need to create some right sized animals
and get rid of those plastic ones.
Draw ‘em off on this piece of wood
and I’ll get my jigsaw after them.
Chlora swept up all the little figures and
Stashed them in the silo.
She took the piece of plywood that Uncle offered
and she drew out 12 animals on it.
Uncle smiled and said follow me.
Out in the shed, in no time flat
he cut out Chlora’s designs,
with her steadying the board.
First a cow.
One pig, one sheep, one goat.
A rooster for a weathervane, crowing off his glory
Like a true cock, turning with
every change in the wind.
A donkey who could substitute for a mule.
A cat for mouse control.
And a dog to bark at everything and round up the sheep.
And a turkey because it is Thanksgiving.
What’d we leave out? The horse of course.
She quickly drew out a horse on the last scrap of wood.
And for good measure, they cut out a small hen
from the remainder.
Chlora proudly took the wooden animals back inside
and set them up around the barn.
They were more to scale and they liked the barnyard.
The cocky rooster flew up to the barn’s roof
showing off his superior status as weathervane.
That Cock crowed three times, then fell over.
The hen, desiring equal rights, took over the other roof.
The cat snuck around in the hayloft
doing its mousely duty. The dog below
always knew where to find her if he needed
something to bark at.
The fat turkey couldn’t get very far but
managed to fly up to the top of a hay roll
to hide from the butcher.
Everybody knew the President of America
would be the butcher even though he
pretended to pardon that poor turkey.
The pig, good for bacon except if you are Jewish,
was on guard for the Prodigal Son
who might try to steal his food.
The cow’s heavy udder swung
so much that she could barely walk.
Hi Ho the Dairy-O, she needed a calf to
relieve her, but Chlora hadn’t made one.
Other animals just wandered around
the barn, waiting for their role in life or death.
They all had to earn their keep.
Meanwhile, the TV blared the Macy’s parade.
New York City was festive and loud and it
sure was showing up their rodeo parade back home.
All those balloon figures full of hot air
grinned benignly down at people
as small as the plastic farmers.
One obese baby balloon had orange skin
and yellow hair. He bobbed around like the fool he was
while his enablers down below waved their
red caps. Chlora yearned to stick a needle in his eye.
2. After Thanksgiving Dinner
The family camaraderie was abruptly ended
when Joanie Kay came running out of the bathroom
Help, the toilet’s flooding!
Water was creeping out from under the door
and she was frantically pulling towels from the shelves,
and blocking the flow with rolls of toilet paper.
Dad stomped in and grabbed the plunger
You girls are putting too much paper
down the toilet. Why can’t you use as little as men do?
Joanie Kay looked at him with disgust.
This always happens when we overload
this little bathroom with too many people, she said.
Well, your limit now is two squares.
Only two squares of toilet paper.
OK, fine, she said, then you can
have my periods for me.
Now he looked disgusted.
He grunted as he thrust the plunger in
again and again.
Aunt Helen commented, oh well,
we have plenty of extra toilet paper.
There is a stockpile out in the barn,
y’all retrieve some out of the bin
when you go out there to feed the animals.
You know I am always prepared
for emergencies like this
and the apocalypse.
Chores at Sunset
Crossing the Field
In the kitchen, the dinner clean up had begun.
Incessant chatter filled all vacancies
and Chlora was relieved when all kids
were told to skedaddle.
It’d get dark soon and
It was time to go feed the sheep and the goats.
And take this trash bag across the field to the dump.
Since we’re having a freeze tonight
the trash won’t stink so bad.
We’ve got extra after that big dinner
and the bathroom spillover, so you each get a bag.
And let all them animals into the barn.
The Protestant work ethic applies to all you kids
who are baptized so get going, it’s getting dark.
Chlora dreaded going in the barn,
especially in the dark.
But she was happy to see the fields.
Bundle up. This was a time for boots.
She put on a cowboy hat and pulled it
down over her ears.
Arnie laughed…you’ve got yer hat on backwards.
The kids warily walked through the rubble of rock
and cactus to get to the big field.
What they were really raising out here was cactus.
A cactus garden. Aunt Helen made
prickly pear jelly out of it every summer.
Problem was the cactus would prick those trash bags
and they’d spill out. Too bad the Macy’s parade
didn’t go through a cactus patch.
To save time, Chlora and her cousins wagged
their heavy trash bags right across the field
instead of taking the dirt road around it.
All the dogs followed them barking merrily,
hoping a bag would split open.
The kids paused once to admire an ant highway,
where long lines of food bearers
trudged toward a busy hole in the dirt,
surrounded by clusters of ants that vibrated
like berries on a bush.
The sun was going down and it was getting
colder by the minute.
Fields held an endless fascination for Chlora,
their stubborn stubble in a holding pattern
for springtime when seed could be well received.
Are we seed or field, or both? Chlora wondered.
The fields revealed no answer, just lay fallow,
wise in their dormancy, stumbly from old crop residue
that resisted the turn of the plow.
It sure didn’t look like it, but
the fallow field is fertile.
St. Paul or some Thanksgiving hymn
said that we ourselves are God’s own field.
Jesus talked about fields a lot.
Aunt Helen had shouted as they left the house:
“Out in the field, one was left and one was taken.”
What was that all about, this rapture event
she talked about all the time?
Jesus himself said he didn’t know
when the world would end,
so why did people think they’d figured it out?
Jesus was more likely to walk among the lavender
casting tall shadows, staking shade markers
pointing to where abundance is stored
in blue-grey volumes
where silence drinks from ample hands
and hunger hurts are fed.
Arnie said, let’s go on a varmint hunt tomorrow.
What qualifies as a varmint?
Possoms, skunks, armadillos,
rats, moles, neutra, beaver, foxes.
But foxes are cute! Chlora protested.
A varmint is anything you wouldn’t eat
unless you’s starving. Runaway slaves
hunted them down.
But first you gotta learn how to shoot
just to protect your gun rights.
Arnie set up tin cans
and bottles along the fence.
We’ll have shootin’ lessons tomorrow with a 22.
See who can hit the bull’s eye.
But right now I’ve got ya a treat.
He grinned big and said they could try his 22,
but if they really wanted to obliterate
the targets, he’d let ‘em try the assault rifle.
First they had to watch him fire it.
He twirled a piece of bacon around the nozzle,
wrapped it up with foil, and fired off a few rounds.
The sound of shot echoed, as if sounding out the
the acreage of the farm.
His big gun was smoking, dripping grease,
and smelling mighty good.
Arnie unwrapped it and offered them all
a taste of crispy bacon.
Eat up, y’all.
Chlora asked, but what IS the target?
At least it was not the time of year for
bringing in the sleaze or for the
spontaneous combustion of haystacks.
Even so, Chlora took a wide berth around the
single haystack at the edge of the field.
If it blew up, needles might fly everywhere.
It was a big mass of crosshatched lines,
huge and silent as time, backlit by the setting sun,
whispers of grain fluttering in the cold wind.
It was like a triumph over time as well as weather,
the poetry of the universe
in the small space of a field.
Claude Monet could have a heyday with this.
So could the Big Bad Wolf, talking those
ignorant Three Little Pigs
into building more houses of straw.
Hadn’t they heard of the parable of building
houses on the sand? Pigs didn’t listen,
they just sniffed for truffles and trampled pearls.
No wonder the kingdom of heaven is like
a pearl hidden in a field; this field was l
probably full of pearls.
Some crows were calling across the great expanse
that had been outlined by the gunshot.
It was like a call and response, as if they
were scouting for gleanings.
Chlora’s scarecrow costume from Halloween
should be on duty here.
Scarecrow would be outstanding in his field.
He would protect not only the crop
but the compassion corners of the field,
dictated in Bible times to be left unharvested
and available to the passerby.
Chlora was full of questions.
Can we cut across that field like a crow flies?
Who is that Jim Crow the adults were
talking about, some neighbor of yours?
And just what are civil rights?
Do you have the right to grow any
crop you want?
Is that a pasture or a meadow or a field?
Cotton and Slaves
All of it used to be cotton fields, back in the day,
Arnie replied. This farm used to be ten times
as big, when they had slaves to do all this,
and none of us had to work so hard.
Arnie burst into song,
“In them old Cotton fields back home.”
Yep those were the days.
It was a plantation and had all that free labor.
Then the Yankees took all that way
and burned it to a crisp.
They had no right. Even Jesus said the
fields were white for harvest, so he was
talking about cotton fields, telling them to
snap the whip and get it done.
After that, cotton was too much trouble.
Believe me, you wouldn’t want to pick it
and scrape up those pretty little hands of yours.
Or pull weeds, either, out of that hard ground.
The Good Book says “Litigation springs up like
poisonous weeds in the furrows of the field.”
Plus all that cotton ruined the soil.
You city mice would just bring in the lawyers
but we country mice just deal with it.
Chlora retorted, yea, but didn’t
George Washington Carver show you all
how to rotate crops with sweet potatoes and peanuts?
And those fields Jesus was talking
about were wheat fields. They look white
when the wheat is ripe.
It is not about cotton.
Oh yea, it is all about cotton.
Why, Chlora, “Ole Black Joe’s still picking cotton
for your ribbons and bows”.
Chlora right then decided she’d paint that very scene
on her silo, and give it a gold top,
like the Dome of the Rock.
She continued her line of questioning
as they trudged across the field.
Did they own these fields?
Oh course we own them, they were handed down for
generations, so they’re our property.
That’s how you get rich, gotta have land.
The government has no right to confiscate private property.
But what if you weren’t allowed to buy land and get rich?
Arnie shrugged and said
If you’re talking about all those Black people,
well, they are only three-fifths human
says the US Constitution.
And besides, even the Good Book approves of slavery.
But they were people, Arnie.
Chlora retorted, well that’s what you get
for idolizing a literal interpretation of the Bible.
The overall message is that all people are equal.
Chlora overheard that the family had lost their cash cow,
and had to give up on the chickens too after the dog got
the best laying hens and made a chicken feather blizzard
like you wouldn’t believe.
But there were plenty of sheep of his pastures
coming inside now and Chlora started to count them.
Jesus said if you love me, feed my sheep.
He did not say count the sheep,
because you’ll get sleepy.
Earlier in the year they had rented out
this field to a dairy farmer and lots of cows
had left evidence of that.
Todd said who wants to play
bull shit bingo? Grab your cow pies.
Cow pies were curious things,
disgusting when slimy fresh and green
but Todd said this dry manure was the
sweet smell of money.
Perhaps it was the hidden treasure in the field
that you have to go look for.
Next time here, she would bring a metal detector.
Poop is a fact of life on farms,
the oldest form of recycling.
That is, unless you count reincarnation,
where souls get recycled.
Perhaps the barn was God’s storehouse for souls,
where he’d come to pick out one to send forth
whenever somebody died.
Chlora accidentally kicked a squatty cow patty
and was thankful that it just crumbled and
didn’t stick to her shoe. Once she had stepped
in a fresh pile and it made a sticky, slurpy
sound that was worse than the stench.
Honey may attract more flies than vinegar,
but cow patties get even more,
except when they’re frozen.
They came up to the ravine
that was the dump.
It was too cold and dark to explore the dump,
but as everybody knows, these landfills
are layered with information.
Piles of memento mori lay here and
some of it was even toxic.
They tossed their trash bags on the pile
and ran toward the barn. It might look forbidding
but at least it would be warmer.
Propane Tank and Windmill
They darted past the big silver
propane gas tank.
That thing looked like a submarine,
and should be painted yellow.
Usually it was fun to sit on that tank and ride it,
but not today, you’d get your little ass
frozen stuck on there and have to be peeled off.
The propane tank was an ever-important furnishing
of the farm, kinda like a barn with its
stockpile for hard times.
What would we do without our oil reserves?
The sheep were waiting by a salt lick that the cows
had licked into a beautiful shape
like a Barbara Hepworth sculpture.
Chlora was tempted to taste it
and then thought of poor old Lot’s wife
who got turned into a salt lick just for looking back.
When it rains, it pours.
Some frozen rain was just beginning.
Usually, the kids would dare each other
to climb the rickety windmill.
It quit working long ago, and was left
just to be a picturesque backdrop for
Kodak moments. The windmill
was making the cold wind visible and audible
and they wondered if the creaky old thing
would withstand the night.
Sunset Over the Fields
Chlora turned back to look at the field.
It’s width took on the curvature of the earth,
and her heart spread just as wide.
Sunset reflected itself in the furrow-shaped puddles
that were turning to ice.
This was a place where you could
tell the difference between east and west.
The sky was red-orange with an impossible
steak of emerald green.
If she ever attempted to paint that,
people would accuse her of sentimentality.
Todd said the green was just from ice in the atmosphere.
She had a vague yearning to lie down
in the middle of the field,
in that earthy vastness, and convince
all those sky gods to talk to each other.
This might work better early in the morning,
as those gods get up early.
There were lots of tall tales, all the way up to the sky,
like the fallen angel that appeared
in Pisa, in its famous Field of Miracles.
She would snuggle up in a thick quilt
down in a deep furrow cut by the tractor
and take a thermos of homemade cocoa,
and just sit and sip and wait
for the sun to separate from the horizon,
clinging like an egg yolk as it tries to rise above it all.
Chlora was a night owl and rarely saw sunrises.
Sunrises were altogether a different
color palette than sunsets
especially if mist was involved.
A misty sunrise doubled its own expanse
when the pinkish glow blurred the horizon line
at first light.
Even for someone who was not a morning person,
she had to glory in the fact that the sun manages
to do this every single day.
However, even the first sunrise in The Garden of Eden
could not be better
than this glorious display of the setting sun,
holding on as long as it could.
Barn From Afar
Chlora liked barns,
admired their form and function from afar.
Most barns were lonely things;
making the country look as abandoned
as the urban scapes painted by Edward Hopper.
Even more desolate was that far off barn painted by
Andrew Wyeth, so seductive it tempted
that poor crippled girl to crawl all the way up a hill
in a dress.
Secretly, Chlora liked Wyeth, and wanted
to emulate his technique of painting
even though it was uncool to like such realism. .
However there were just too many paintings of barns
and the world did not need any more.
From a distance, the barn looked ominous.
Its silhouette was like a shroud of the Grim Reaper,
or Darth Vader.
As they trudged closer, it seemed
stalwart and dependable,
broad in its mercy and dark in its mystery.
It used to be painted red, but that’d almost all peeled off.
And the wood had turned gray just like hair does.
How it remained standing was a miracle,
with all of its parts tilted into each other,
jutting out like elbows.
This barn did not have a silo like her toy barn.
What was a silo for anyhow?
for keeping academic areas separate?
In the movies, people fell into silos full of sorghum
and drowned. Maybe a silo full of cotton
would be safer. Comfy, even.
How do farmers ever keep up with all of this?
They got to the barnyard gate and
Chlora wondered aloud:
Who is the architect of barns?
He or she should win the Pritzer Prize.
Cows Come Home
As Chlora and her cousins neared the barnyard,
three cows were striding in from the margins.
They were happy cows, not mad cows,
you could tell by how they waddled
as if they had all the time in the world.
Cousin Arnie told her if she ever
got lost to just follow a cow
because all cows had swallowed a compass.
Todd said forget it, them cows
will be beef tenderloin soon.
They argued over how much money
they would get from it.
Chlora was appalled to learn that
that trio would be butchered,
but they told her the cows didn’t mind,
nor did they give a shit over the price of beef.
Farm Life and Bodies
The life of the farm revolved around
mating and birthing and eating and defecating
and growing and killing. It was all about bodies.
On their previous trip here
Chlora had observed On Top of Old Smokey,
which was what they called it when the mules mated.
That was a sight to behold, except that mules
just shoot blanks. It is donkeys that have the
enormous balls, according to the Bible.
How do chickens do it? Or worms? Or turtles?
Todd and Arnie said they once had a pair
of gay goats out here.
Calf Birth, Naming, Butchering
One time Chlora observed
a calf being born in the barn.
An enormous beige cow was groaning
and moaning and rolling her eyes.
Then a big blue balloon came out
and everything gushed bloody and slime
and the cow licked life into a blob
that turned out to be a spindly calf.
It had its four legs all ready to go
and at that point became cute.
Chlora hoped to heaven that it would
not be born again like Nicodemus.
After watching that birth process,
it was astonishing that anybody
ever had a second baby.
Who would choose to give birth again?
Especially after going through all that trouble
of loving your offspring when they were destined
to be shot, ground up and sold off to burger joints.
She now knew better than to name a calf,
even it if was cute. She had named that
sweet innocent little newborn
Caramel due to his color.
Caramel had long eyelashes.
Later Chlora found out they were making
hamburger patties out of him,
real cow pies. How disgusting.
3. In the Barnyard
Tractor Inside Barn
The green tractor’s huge tires protruded out the door
like buttocks mooning the pasture.
Those tires were almost as tall as Chlora.
They had made muddy tracks through the barnyard
that looked like swastikas repeated over and over.
Arnie got the engine sputtering and pulled the tractor
all the way inside to protect it from the weather forecast.
Feeding Sheep and Goats
Todd lugged out two burlap bags marked
SHEEP AND LAMB FEED
and began tossing pellets to the small flock outside.
Chlora liked the goats and the sheep
but she was skittish of
a feeding frenzy or any other sort of herd behavior.
She stood by the gate, in case a
quick getaway might become necessary.
The sheep and goats gobbled up the same food.
Chlora asked Todd about separating sheep and goats,
which was one of those scriptures
that should be filed under
the category of Bothersome.
Todd replied it was like separating
the men from the boys;
you need a good border collie for one
and a good hooker for the other.
But it is gonna get cold tonight,
so we better bring ’em all in the barn.
The skinny goats huddled together
since they didn’t have thick wood coats on.
Their eyes were flat out odd, with just little
slits for pupils. How do they see through those slits?
Their pupils looked like that speck
you see in somebody else’s eye when
you’ve got logs in your own.
Some of the goats had small horns,
and one had longer stubs like Michelangelo’s Moses.
Chlora wanted to name that goat Moses.
His horns looked more normal than the statue’s did.
Both of those goats would
likely get turned into cabrito.
Moses must’ve been on the horns of a dilemma
with those devilish little things poking
up out of his hair for no good reason.
Everything around here on the farm was horny,
the horn of plenty centerpiece at Thanksgiving dinner,
cousin Todd, horny toads (which were getting rare),
and now Moses.
Inside the Barn
While the sheep and goats communed with Todd
in the barnyard,
Chlora went inside the barn.
It exuded the sweet scent of summer, collected
back when someone made hay while the sun shined.
Chlora sneezed and thought of those poor peasants
or slaves who worked their tails off in days past,
bringing in the sheaves
or the hay or the cotton.
She wasn’t sure what was the difference
between hay and wheat and straw.
Hay was nothing but dried grass, alfalfa mostly;
how could it possibly feed something big as a cow?
The uneven stacks trembled as they hovered,
the direct opposite of the stolid,
sharp tractor parked below.
She was thankful those hard-working tractors are
big, green, and obvious, so when the Little Red Hens
of the world claim to have done it all by themselves
and exclude others from the bread,
you could point to the nearest tractor and say, Really?
Three cows congregated in there, pigging out
on the hay bales.
The barn was a cavern, its bales piled up to the rafters.
In the dim light the wind made the walls creak.
Slats of orange sky pierced the high arched roof.
Had that barn once been full of picked cotton?
Now it had huge round hay bales.
If they were cotton, they’d look like rolls of toilet paper.
Chlora asked Arnie if that barn used to be full of cotton.
He said, probably, it is as old as the hills.
Been full of hay as long as I remember.
Used to be we had regular hay bales, stacked up
in there like bricks.
and those stacks would wobble.
There are many ways to fall through the cracks, but
a person could get lost forever in those bales of hay,
down in those scratchy crevices between rows,
black as night.
This, along with the bull dream, gave Chlora
The heebie jeebies about old barns.
This one began to look scary.
Cats and Mice
Barn cats silently leaped from bale to rafter,
doing their mice duty.
These were not fat cats from some corporate bailout,
but sleazy and hard to catch.
One black cat chasing her own tail reminded Chlora of her
poor begotten kitten, Geneva,
who got murdered at Halloween,
may her soul rest in peace.
Another cat darted nimble and quick,
hiding and peeking out from behind bales.
Chlora was scared of climbing up that stack
and falling through.
Little mice came out of nowhere on cue,
diving in for feed pellets that missed the bucket.
There were more than three mice
and they were not blind.
One ran up the back of Chlora’s jacket.
She squealed, but that
mouse was even more scared than her.
It shot out from her collar, peeing all the way
with Arnie and Todd laughing their heads off.
Those two were not quite mice
and not quite men.
Bull Dream and Ladder
Chlora eyed the the ladder to the loft
It was built flat against the wall,
like the one on her toy silo.
Those ladders were hard to climb.
Chlora had a repetitive nightmare
of being chased up into the hayloft
by a big bull that’d barged into the barn.
She wasn’t sure if that event had actually
happened or not, but she chose to use her noggin
and just not go there.
She already had enough memories
without recovering ones that may not have happened.
Were memories ever new?
Seems they were supposed to be old.
Bad dreams had a way of festering
even though she knew she had
to take that bull by the horns
and shake him off. An image replacement exercise
might help: maybe she would politely escort
the bull to a china shop
and let him wreak havoc among the Limoges.
He would drizzle snot on the snobby ladies of the DAR
who sipped tea with their pinkies in the air,
and quickly put their precious teacups
out of commission.
She told Arnie and Todd about the bull
they saw on the drive to the farm yesterday.
She hoped to be assured of his absence here.
They said we’ve never had a bull out here
and she was safe as could be in the barn.
Just get out your red scarf and wave him away
like a Spanish bullfighter.
Right then, a hay bale tumbled down
like a booming prophet from on high,
scattering the cats
and dusting up the air.
The whole barn shivered in response,
threatening a landslide
and Chlora jumped back to the door.
Roll in the Hay
The cousins thought this was funny,
that hundreds of pounds of grass out of nowhere
could like a rolling boulder squish a cat,
or a kid, for that matter.
That prompted jokes about
getting a roll in the hay
which had to be no fun at all.
Chlora was not about to get bolted into a barn
with a boy. Going on a hayride was itchy enough.
Wind whistled through the wall planks,
rattling rolls of barbed wire
hanging there like readymade crowns of thorns.
A bulging tool belt hanging on a nail
jerked like torture equipment.
If a crazy horse or a roaring bull came in there,
or some horny cousin,
Chlora would grab one of those sharp tools
to defend herself.
Better yet, she’d fire up the chainsaw
and go for his balls.
The sound of slight sleet on the tin roof
sounded like a full fledged storm.
Arnie and Todd said, grab the TP
and head home!
(at this point in the story, Chlora muses about the saddle, they return to the farmhouse for evening entertainment, go to bed. Then an ice storm hits and knocks out the power.)
4. Day 3
The ice storm in the thick of night
had the feel of Armageddon.
Aunt Helen then went into one of
the ice storm was a sign of the apocalypse.
We better get ready for the rapture.
Ready or not here he comes!
Chlora said, but Aunt Helen, it was Dante
who invented that icy version of hell.
And how come the Second Coming is a threat
rather than a promise?
Maybe it isn’t the second, but the eternal coming,
an ongoing promise that Christ is
here, there and everywhere.
Uncle Ernest scratched his head
as he surveyed the devastation out front.
Yea, if it’s the end times, you won’t need
all that stockpile in the barn, Helen.
We are the good people and we will be long gone.
Ice this early in the season was unusual,
proof that global warming was a bunch of hooey
but that climate change was a certainty.
Ice-covered branches from the fallen oak
hid the family’s white
station wagon almost completely,
which meant their stay might be overextended.
Uncle Ernest really needed his chainsaw.
Chlora Goes to the Barn Alone
Arnie bragged that he had put up the chainsaw
in the barn so it didn’t get ice-stuck in the yard.
Chlora volunteered to go get it in the barn.
Uncle told her to bring his tool belt
and while you’re at it, get the gas can.
Now why had she opened her big mouth?
After that slippage of the hay bales,
Chlora was a bit hesitant
to go in the barn alone.
She stuffed an old dinner roll in her pocket
in case she needed
to bribe or distract one of the animals.
The air itself was frozen, and Chlora worried about her
eyeballs, which the only part of her left exposed.
She crunched along the dirt path
and glanced at the creek way down below.
Slabs of icicles scissored the bluff
like a rack of organ pipes
extruding from the rock, overhanging the creek,
coldly dipping into the water.
She balanced herself over the cattle guard,
looking down for every step she took.
Icicles, Barn as Cathedral
When she lifted her head, Chlora found
the morning barn was much different
from the evening barn.
Whereas it had been reflecting the sunset last night,
now it was monochromatic gray,
with ice covering all surfaces.
It was a fearsome beauty
looming on the horizon like a Gothic cathedral.
She had seen such cathedrals in a book.
One of them even had bulls for gargoyles,
big bulls that peered around the corners
at the sculpted tympanum over the big door.
Supposedly those were to honor the oxen
who had labored mightily
hauling in stone for the cathedral builders.
Why didn’t they honor the slaves who built it?
The barn’s west façade resembled a giant ice carving
of a Last Judgment. Chlora knew about such things
more from art books than from the Bible.
Layers of garbled figures would be
crammed within an arch, with a mean Jesus
hovering over them. The magnificent Notre Dame
Cathedral in Paris had such a tympanum,
and people had to walk under it to get inside.
Ahead, that Last Judgment appeared to loom
over the barnyard, the perimeter of the arch
lined with threatening icicles
that could be pelted down
onto anyone who violated its space.
Walking under that arch was downright dangerous.
Chlora did not wish to entertain the Last Judgment,
which offered a sure case of
damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
However, it was satisfying to know that bad people
like the mean boys who killed her kitten on Halloween,
and the KKK would get what they deserved in the end—
a big icicle right up their rear end.
If Job was right, that the breath of God produces ice,
then God had done some heavy breathing last night.
Water in the animals’ trough had turned as hard as stone.
The rooster weathervane could not creak in the wind
for being frozen solid.
The barn door stuck shut and sharp icicles
dripped from above.
Chlora kicked the door and jumped back
as the ice shattered like a windowpane,
followed by the fall of an overhead row of fangs.
She had to push against the frozen handle to get inside.
Inside the Barn, with Animals and Questions
The barny contents announced themselves with
the dusty fragrance of hay and the sour smell of goats.
She had the barn all to herself and tiptoed inside.
Streaks of sunshine shot through slats in the walls.
It was a dazzling light, with illuminated dancing dust
that had to be a halo pulverized into bits.
Baby Jesus was born in a barn; his first glimpse of
daylight probably looked like this.
The frightening dreams of barns,
of falling through cracks in the haystacks,
of bulls chasing her up the ladder,
of boys rolling girls in the hay—
all melted away.
The barn had become a sacred space,
like Jackson Pollock’s studio barn
where he played his soft jazz
while he slung paint toward a new era.
In the sparkling air, the sheep and goats
cuddled up together,
like clouds from heaven that had settled on the earth.
Rather than a separation of sheep and goats,
this was an ingathering.
Chlora loosened her plaid scarf and felt steam rise
along with the distinct odor of damp wool.
She smiled, realizing the smell wasn’t coming
from her muffler but from the sheep.
She stomped her feet to rid them of icy mud
and the sheep stirred.
The three cows couldn’t care less
as they had rediscovered the hay bales.
The chainsaw butted up to the sacks of sheep food
and the whole ensemble was tangled up
with curly pieces of grapevine
that Arnie had saved from his earlier
ravage of the woods.
One of the branches curved up
into a question mark. It paralleled the faces of the
little goats that were now perking up.
She wondered if animals asked the big questions, like
Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
Who-what-when-where-how? Which is most important?
Maybe it is better to live the questions
than to ask the questions.
Chlora sat down in the hay, grasping at straws.
Some of these questions really get your goat.
Somebody always had to take the blame
for all the unanswerable questions.
That’s why the ancient Israelites sent scapegoats
off into the wilderness,
and they were not sheepish about it at all.
Is that why Jesus divided up the sheep and goats?
Maybe the separation of sheep and goats is
about how we blame the least of these,
diminishing somebody with slitty eyes into the Other.
Such realizations really put Chlora to the question,
a self-imposed inquisition.
For some people the questions alone were spiritual food.
Socrates had only six questions.
Whatever those were, Chlora had more than six.
She asked the thin air if spiritual food
was the same as physical food.
The goats made a snorting, whinnying sound.
Their big question was what’s for breakfast?
Their hunger was as real as rain.
Do you like dill rolls? She tore off bits of the roll
and tossed them to the goats.
Jesus said he’s the bread of life,
and told us to give bread to the hungry.
Therefore he wants to get fed to the hungry.
So his bread body was broken so it could be
more easily distributed, sort of like feed pellets,
but somebody has to get them there.
Moses the goat seemed non-plussed
by the stale Thanksgiving rolls.
Maybe that was why Jesus talked about giving them
their daily bread; it is always better than bread from
the day before. The goats’ little green eyes
asked for more than leftovers.
Hunger is hunger.
Chlora scooped up some feed pellets from the sackcloth
and tossed them to the goats.
They gobbled it up and wanted more.
Her cousin had told her that if you feed it, you own it.
Chlora would not mind taking these cute goats
to her suburban back yard.
Their grazing would be much more efficient
than lawn mowers and with all the weeds back there,
they would be well fed,
unlike millions of hungry children in the world
or even just here in America.
Why was that?
Why, when farms worldwide were overproducing?
Some of those big corporate farms were
even throwing out vegetables and pouring out milk.
Chlora had never been hungry,
not really, as food was never scarce in her world.
One time she saw a picture in a book of Irish
children scrambling for food during a famine.
Another picture in the art book
showed hungry kids begging their mom.
There was a war going on and that means
soldiers get shot while civilians starve.
It was titled “Brot!” which meant Bread!
No question, that was an exclamation point.
Chlora couldn’t imagine a war,
but she could imagine peace.
It had something to do with generosity,
having enough for everyone so nobody
fights over their share.
Peace also started within, when one decides
to be a non-anxious presence in a world of chaos.
Now that was impossible most of the time
and required you borrow some peace
from its source. This in turn required imagination.
In this old barn, swords had been
beaten into plowshares
right there on the steely anvil.
Old corrugated tin, streaked with rusty spots,
made a flimsy roof in here, yet
the barn had a distinct feel of shelter.
The light from the barn door landed on the
rolls of hay bales, all of them secure,
waiting, and no longer frightening.
They were just lying in wait
for when they were needed.
The old barn was a stout vessel
and had survived many storms;
all the hay was dry and ready.
Chlora walked around, looking up at the
impenetrable wonder of it all,
and had a pet goat moment or two.
A good barn is a good place to know.
Vision of Spring, Ravenna
Chlora said goodbye to the animals
and decided to go out another way.
She was not about to walk under
that Last Judgment again.
She wagged the chainsaw to the
opposite end of the barn, and
heaved open the sliding door
She squinted at the bright sunshine.
She knew to step back.
The ice was beginning to melt
and icicles full of rainbows crashed at her feet.
Chlora felt a glow warming up her back
and turned around. Inside the hayloft
the light glared and almost blinded her as it lit up;
It was like the apse of a kinder old cathedral
in candlelight. The interior of the monochromatic barn
flooded with sparkly bits of color
that filled in the curved space from side to side.
Spriggy white flowers, small evergreens, and birds
lighted into the space, a clear blue orb
arose above it all.
Rows of white sheep strolled in from the sides.
In the middle appeared some saint
who looked like the Good Shepherd
with outstretched arms.
His gesture mimicked the curvature of the apse,
He might be a Byzantine archbishop
checking out the Transfiguration
but here and now he was the Good Shepherd
gathering in all of the lambs,
even the lost ones.
Chlora reminded herself to put her wooden sheep
up in the loft of the toy barn, so the shepherd
could find that one of the 99 who’d wandered off.
Chlora stood in awe, as awe requires standing
and looking up. She filled her eyes with
the sparkling color, marinating in the light.
It was a vision to keep in her spiritual treasure chest,
and pull out in times of famine.
Then duty called and broke her revelation.
She ran back inside for Uncle’s tool belt
and slung it over her shoulder.
It clanked down to her ankles.
All sorts of stuff hung off that tool belt.
Chlora wondered if the guys who nailed up Jesus
used the same sort of tools.
Lugs Chainsaw and Tool Belt Back to House
As Chlora picked up the chainsaw,
she made an oil executive’s decision
to temper her load
and come back later for the gas can.
Out in the cold, the wintry gray barnyard was reflecting
bits of green. She clambered through the gate
and struggled onto the icy road.
She peeked over her shoulder at the barn
and was glad to see that the green glow
from within had seeped out.
Glittery tesserae had
spread up to the roof and spilled over.
That vivid green of spring,
the color of trees in early bud,
burst out of the barn as if Vivaldi
was in there playing the most
verdant of the four seasons.
There was the scent of fresh green grass
just mown from a meadow.
The chainsaw was suddenly much lighter.
(The afternoon is filled with ice skating and sawing firewood from the fallen trees. Then, Chlora’s family is ready to drive home.)
5. Good Bye Gifts, Loading the Car
Barn Toy and TP
Chlora crammed in her wooden toy barn
alongside her on the seat in the wayback
of the station wagon. The barn took up a
lot of real estate, but she didn’t mind.
She needed that thing back at home.
Making use of every cubic inch,
Aunt Helen had stuffed the barn with toilet paper
cheerfully saying it was now
stockpiled for the Apocalypse.
There were even TP rolls in the silo.
Helen felt better just knowing
that they were prepared
in case anybody got the runs.
Chlora perfected her eye roll.
The big question now was
how can bigots be so nice?
Dad was warming up the station wagon.
The radio squawked that the roads
were being cleared in nearby towns,
but out here you’d be well advised to get out the tire chains
if you intend to attempt a heroic journey.
Their station wagon was scratched and dented
but it had survived the fallen tree.
It was being outfitted with chains
and its heater was puffing up for the drive home.
Exhaust made clouds in the clear air.
Aunt Helen walked out the kitchen door
bringing the sweet smell of heaven with her.
She was warm as a bakery and told all the kids
to hold out their hands.
Receiving never felt so good — the paper bags
of fresh cookies were still warm.
Here, I was so happy to get the oven back,
I made all kinds while you’s out skating.
Just a little sustenance for your trip back home
in case you haven’t had enough to eat.
Then Uncle Ernest and the cousins hauled over
several armloads of freshly cut firewood.
They stacked it in the back of the station wagon
and the rear end of the car sagged.
That weight will help you drive on the ice.
But you better let that oak sit a spell before burning it.
That wood’s so green it’ll clog up your chimney
and smoke you out of your house.
But it’ll make mighty fine burning and
keep you toasty this time next year.
While we’re at it, here’s you some of my seasoned hickory.
Need to clear out the woodshed anyhoo.
Now see here’s the difference. Uncle Ernest
whacked two old gray hickory logs together.
They made a hollow sound, whereas the sticky new wood
clomped. And remember to bring it inside
to room temperature afore you burn it,
cause that damp wood’ll hiss like a snake.
Aunt Helen mused: Remember our savior,
on his way to the cross said
“If they do this when wood is green,
what’ll happen when its dry?” Luke??
Chlora asked what was that supposed to mean.
Uncle Ernest replied,
who knows, honey.
Just be a good tender of the flame.
Here, do you have room for some of these?
Hilda Marie had returned with her old apron
wrapped around a bunch of pomegranates,
smiled and set them on Chlora’s lap.
The bundle loosened and pure, unbounded love
rolled all over the car floor.
Hilda Marie then handed Joanie Kay
a grocery bag full of pecans
and two nutcrackers.
You can shell these in the car on your way home.
There was a long goodbye accompanied
by a stout cooler of leftovers, and admonitions about safety.
Wait, called Clarence with a toothy grin.
We will never get outta here, thought Chlora.
He suddenly applied the noisy chainsaw to
a blue spruce tree near the road.
Clarence, why did you chop down
the one perfectly good tree we have left?
He shrugged, drug it over to the car
and hoisted it onto the roof.
Ice crystals fell off like jingle bells.
Now help me tie this on and you got yourself
a real, live Christmas tree
so you won’t have to buy a fake one that looks like
a whole roll of aluminum foil hit a shredder.
Or like Hilda Marie when she gets her hair colored.
Now the car really looked like a low rider.
Never had that car smelled so fine, with the scents
of gifts—tree sap and warm cookies,
backed up with cedar smoke and sawdust.
Chlora peeked in her very own steamy paper bag
of traveling mercies.
They were sugar cookies, cut out like
gingerbread men, in various states of brokenness.
Cookie Cutter Christ
One cookie looked like an imposing Jesus
enthroned at the Last Judgment,
like in that medieval church tympanum
that had frozen onto the barn earlier.
Stiff and stern was certainly an awkward
position to be in
for somebody so loving.
The cookie cutter Christ had lost his fingers,
had broken ankles,
and was about to lose his head.
It spoke to Chlora:
“Here Is My Body
Broken For You”
In the distance, the why-why-why
of the chainsaw revved up again.
Chlora said, We can go home now.
EVERYBODY KNOWS, 1988
FROM I’M YOUR MAN
And everybody knows that it’s now or never
Everybody knows that it’s me or you
And everybody knows that you live forever
Ah when you’ve done a line or two
Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old Black Joe’s still pickin’ cotton
For your ribbons and bows
And everybody knows
And everybody knows that the Plague is coming
Everybody knows that it’s moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there’s gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows