—for Lenora Timm
She has catfish ponds & pigs, geese & range-wild turkeys
at the edge of housing developments
where alluvial soils collect to the thousands of feet,
a landscape laid out in numbers & square grids
where winter rains pound & puddle
around house, barns, & stalls. Her hands
& feet turn a muddy black with the work. When she looks
at her hands she thinks of Paris, the long train ride
across the north of France after months of farming in
Brittany, in the hotel drawing water for a bath
she felt elegant, just come to the city. On the streets, amid
markets , sitting at boulevard cafés, others
stopped up short, stared—she thought it was
her clothes, or her hair. They were not cut to any fashion.
Maybe it was the gleam in her eyes. On the farm they spoke Breton.
Surrounded by the French she became a linguist,
translated poems of rock, wind—a fierce aloneness remembered
& sung by the last Celtic farmwomen of the last century.
A girl from Chicago, she says she knew
she belonged with them— But that
was a long time ago, before people would come to this valley farm
at the holidays, looking for turkey and geese—
And small talk, she says— “I mean SMALL! with people for whom
a trip in the dark to Road 95 is a wilderness expedition.”
She cooks the next day’s meal, calms customers
delayed by a shortage of birds promised—says she
had to run to the back forty and fetch three more geese
the biggest she could find, & ferry them
back to the house to await fate. “What do linguists do?”
they ask— “What can there possibly be
to study?” There are days
her rubber boots get sucked up to the knee.
I see her screaming at the sky, a bum knee
wrenched hobbling on to a rickety eave, a patch
of matted & soggy hay—“Mon cher poete,” she wrote:
“Merci, de tes lettres et de tes pensees bien amicales”— &
added, “I hope my code-switching doesn't annoy you, I'm
in a code-switching mood.” The Celtic she seldom used,
but took a name, goazhig,
“little goose”— she raised a goose up that year,
followed her around like a child, she started taking on
goose manners, the long & searching look, the
fierce protectiveness. This she had learned from the Breton
poet Lisette. They’d met in a field. She had gone out for a walk
heard a voice shouting in Breton: “taboy, taboy!” Cow talk.
It sounded like Irish Celts raiding for bulls. Then came the French:
“Vache! Chameau!” Lisette asked her that day: “Est-ce que vous êtes
d'ici?”—‘are you from around here?’ Language was the domain of the
women, of the animals & the storms, a territory of spaces between
the buildings— today she is surprised each November
how, in spite of early sunsets the evenings are soft, fragrant and
moonlit. Jogging in the light, listening to owls, lying
on the ground in the mud and the rains. She was
always looking at the heavens: “I am Star Struck,” she wrote.
“StarBound … StarLace ... Did you see the moon rising
about 7:30? Gold, like an egg yolk, ready to explode on Sierra
ridges, I've never seen such a moon!
It was then I knew, I’m a poet’s soul sister–” Star struck, she had
married into an existing family; & when her step-daughter’s
wedding came wrote again, saying, “I'm good for about 10 minutes
worth of talk of bridal gowns and bridesmaids' dresses, listening to
this girl (that's what she is) rattle on about colors, bodices, frills,
lace, pearls, hems... But I, I bought Frank a used truck—it's actually
pretty nifty, a black ’94 FT150, 8 cyl.,4X4, extended bed; can haul
up to 12,000 lbs.; he'll look real sexy in it, especially if he gets the
right sort of dog to sit next to him in the passenger seat.
Now the evenings—
the evenings here are so soft, so fragrant and moonlit.”
From a manscript The Hardest Love by Scott McLean. Posted with permission from the author.