I’d love to have been a farmer by Sean Thomas Dougherty

18 December 2020 on Nonfiction  

with a hundred acres, and a silo, a big green tractor, with a hound dog named Shiloh to ride shotgun, tending to the rows of corn, or sunflowers, endless fields of sunflowers like I saw in North Dakota, a homemade scarecrow, chickens whose necks we’d spin and snap, a big house that always smelled of biscuits and honey, a big boned wife in a bright red flannel shirt, and a half dozen dirty faced kids I’ve give old testament names like Elijah, Hagar, Naomi, Tamar and Jethro, bare foot, playing tag, and scattering up dust after their chores, but I can barely tend a garden, like the one in our back yard my father-in-law tilled, and my mother-in-law planted, same as every year since I first started it and they took it over. The basil and lettuce have gone to bitter bloom. The unstaked tomatoes bow to the ground where the chipmunks and voles eat them. Deer come and eat the lettuce after dark. I find their hoofprints in the dirt. Or is it something else that comes, stands up right to eat the apples off the tree like a man. My father-in-law and I do not know how they hop the five-foot chain-link fence. My in-laws are good at starting things and abandoning them, lord knows how many half-finished projects they’ve started over the years. The eavestrough has fallen off. I can’t critique them though. The garden is laid out well with wood beds, and we are all getting old. It’s hard to sustain much of anything these days. My father-in-law used to be a walking hardware store. He could fix anything. Now I am often reminding him of where he was headed as he stands confused in the middle of the kitchen. My wife and daughters have no interest in a garden, nor a farm. My daughters fly around the block on hover boards and spend as many hours as they can in these virtual online worlds, they play with the neighbor kids. Or swim in our above ground pool. We got it made. This suburban block where three neighbors killed themselves, another two were busted selling drugs, and two more simply vanished when they could no longer make their mortgage payment. I close my eyes and know it must be better milking a cow. After working overtime, my body tells me I am old as dirt. I am old as any levee. The older I get the more I am enamored with the rain, the river, floods of water, the creek across the highway, the small silver fish that swim, where the boys sit on the bank with home-made fishing lines or digging their hands to catch crayfish or singing frogs. I am older than the sagging porch. I dowse for love with a fallen branch. The dragonflies dive like blue darts through the summer air. The older I get the more enamored I become with the light, like a Rothko painting, the red light, cinnabar and carmine, the hennaed earth along the creek bank. The faded rose sunset, lychee light. The evening’s titanium yellow, citrine and dandelion, flooding across the yard’s dried grass, itself golden rod and tan. I am older than the iron gate. A yellow jacket flies above the rotting squash and daffodils. I am obsessed with how ambulance sirens shine brighter in the rain. When we die, I wonder what color the light will be, if there will be light, a kind of blue, a shade of light barely luminesce, the way when the sun sets you can’t tell with your eye the exact moment the day became dark. I am old as an old mattress left in a vacant lot. Perhaps we cross over this way? The hours pass so fast, so slow. I am old as coyote. I turn away and turn back, and my daughters have grown taller. I’ve lost an inch or so, I’ve lost a step, a breath. The world turns and turns again.  There are no words written in the twilight. I am older than this house, or a hammer, a box of nails made in a factory in China. Old as trade, or envy. Today I saw a pair of tiger striped butterflies Papilio glaucus Linnaeus in the lilac bush outside of the residential facility where I work. I pointed them out to J who lives there and said I’ve rarely seen that kind this close to the lake. He spent the rest of the day telling everyone, have you seen the tiger striped swallowtails, do you know how rare they are here? I am old as a darning needle, old as a ball of string. Which reminded me of how we all just want to be part of something rare, special, unique, and often it is a sighting of something alive in this world that can help us make that claim, in this time of extinction, this time going by so fast. I saw two 12-point bucks running along the railroad tracks on my drive for work. I am old as the rust on a Chevy up on blocks by a roadside shack. I am old as an ESSO can, full of rags. I hit the brakes just in time, the bucks paused at the edge of the road then crossed slow as if daring me to pump the gas. The other day a rafter of turkeys walked across the grounds. I have often wanted to be able to write my name in the steam blowing from a tea kettle but when I stick my finger out, it burns. Once, my daughter said you can’t burn your finger on a cloud. We were laying on our backs in the yard’s uncut clover amid the drowsy blur of late summer bees. I’ve often thought that honey is a kind of liquid light, its own sort of yellow. Honey yellow. Honey light. We spread it on the homemade bread we bought at the farmer’s market from the Mennonite women, the women dressed in blues, greys, lavender, never in red though I don’t think there is any rule against it, heads covered in white, who live on family farms that ring the trailer park where they just busted a Meth-lab, out passed the edge of town and have a half dozen children apiece and say hallo, and laugh loud when their somber-faced blue-shirted men are not around, and talk to my daughters, stuffing their faces with butter cookies, oohing and ahhing about their scrap quilts stitched with every color—sage & fern, cobalt and carmine, sapphire and Chrysanthemum.


Sean Thomas Dougherty is the author or editor of 18 books including Not All Saints, winner of the 2019 Bitter Oleander Library of Poetry Prize, and All my People are Elegies: Prose Poems, Essays and Epistolary Oddities (NYQ Books 2019). His book The Second O of Sorrow (BOA Editions 2018) received both the Paterson Poetry Prize, and the Housatonic Book Award from Western Connecticut State University. Other awards include the Twin Cities College Association Poet in Residence; and a Fulbright Lectureship to the Balkans, sponsored by the US State Department. He now works as a care giver and Med Tech for various disabled populations and lives with the poet Lisa M. Dougherty and their two daughters in Erie, Pennsylvania. More info on Sean can be found at seanthomasdoughertypoet.com.

Art: "Rainy Afternoon in the Neighborhood" by Rita Pomerleau. Oil on canvas board.

Rita Pomerleau is a nurse practitioner by day and a painter by night. She is most enthralled with Pleine Air painting, capturing the light and mood while it lasts. She resides in Eliot, Maine.

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