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Requiem for a Barn

read by the author

Belly ablaze with his disease, he hoses
Dung-cakes from their legs, lifts bin-rails
And whacks them, nostrils smoking, into the yard,
Hating his father who whistles
The whole day through as if all time
Was only a thistle-clock. They call him
A character, old Evert because, for a bet,
He told his horse to go the milk-rounds
All alone, to stop at every gate, told
The neighbours to collect their bottles and shoo
Him on. And won the bet when the horse
Came ambling, milkless,  back to the barn.

One night, twenty below,
He lunged home from a dance, stripped to his vest
And milked the whole herd, 3 a.m. till dawn
Whistling so loud no one found their sleep. 
And slammed in, red-raw, brewed coffee and whistled
Till daylight broadened across the snow.  They call him
A character, always quipping and cavorting.
Yet deep in himself, there’s not one serious bone.
His time on earth is merely to pass the time.

Evert carries the same name as his father,
Carries it like a curse, always keeping
The length of the barn between them,
Biting his teeth against the fire that sears
His mind to a scream that he never, never
Releases, but drives wordless
Deep into post and plank, saturating
Wood and stone with a pain that even now
Two days after the fire, floats high
In the hackberry limbs, dead fifty years,
His home cracked cinder-blocks, charred
2x10’s, mangled iron. We stand here in the citron
Morning light where a last exhalation
Winds across sodden ashes.

This barn belongs to Evert Everstrud.
You can smell him everywhere.
Evert was over there, in the groomsman’s quarters
When I climbed the make-shift ladder with my bride.
He watched me paint it a cheap bruise-blue.
A bowl of hyacinths was breathing on a doiley.

She was a French girl handsome as a blackbird,
Who came by while I was dreaming
About a French girl handsome as a blackbird.

Evert was trembling with glee because
I let her take me wherever we were going
Within his barn. Once there, her plumage fell away
And she was just a lanky woman hungering
For a Green Card and a barn to keep her warm.
Feathers off, she stood there, shivering,
Confused and bitchy, a citizen now
Of a country that would never be ours
Or hers, because of my blind courtesy.

I woke up, quick, sundered the whole thing
Muslim-style. Bunched my fist, banged it on the table:
I divorce you. Once, twice, then done. Man and wife
Less than an afternoon. No one knew
About these nuptials, save us, and Evert, who laughed
So much he forgot the huge fire in his belly.


This barn belongs to Evert Everstrud
And to his father, Evert Everstrud
A man as empty as the wind, who could whistle
A hundred tunes and milk a hundred cows.

We came for a while to honour
Its cedar bones, the noise and
Dust and dung of so much living:
Mildred Everstrud, standing no taller than
Her father’s chin, planted this hackberry tree,
And now its arms hang over the house
All summer, then break the waves of ice-wind
That ride up from the Gulf and strafe the plains.
Mildred’s gone, and her children’s children
And the big tree’s blessed us all
With a company of cardinals and orioles,
A hundred years and more, and more.                               

                No birds today.
Water and ash and twisted stanchions.
They don’t mock anything, they simply
Receive the snow. Tomorrow they’ll knock
The last bits down and haul them away.
And soon I will haul myself once more
Towards my other home I call my home,
Southward into the sun, and I will never
Trespass again in this hollow where the small creek
Winds among the cottonwoods and willows.

It has come to this, as Evert kept on telling me
Against my deafness, over and over:
Listen, you were always only passing through.