Tuesday, January 5, 2016


A cold morning in Harmony--temperature hovering below zero, woodstove clicking and groaning, white cat plastered on a red hearth rug. In the middle of town, furnace breath hangs above the school, the gas station, the store. School buses creak to a halt.

The cold creeps under doors and around window frames. On Saturday our road commissioner, a 26-year-old kid, was killed while repairing a town truck. I didn't know him at all, other than as the guy in charge of plowing, but I still feel the jolt of loss. He was a well-loved son, the father of a little girl; his wife is pregnant with their second child. Picture a moment's misstep: how many lives beyond your own would go terribly awry?

Downstairs I hear Tom's footsteps, back and forth, back and forth, across the hard kitchen floor. When I was small, I listened to many tales of men killed by tractors . . . neighbors of my parents or grandparents. A farmer would try to drive a tractor up a hill or go too quickly around a curve, and it would flip and crush him. The man who owned the feed store had lost all the fingers of one hand, caught in farm machinery. As my sister and I waited for our granddad to load sacks of grain into the trunk of the Impala, we stole looks at the finger stumps--neat, useless, innocently round.

A square of sunlight illuminates the music book on my stand: Bach, Six Sonatas for Violin Solo. I remember the shiver of imagining my own hand without fingers. I don't remember imagining the families of the men beneath those tractors.
Over your body the clouds go
High, high and icily
And a little flat, as if they
Floated on a glass that was invisible. 
[Sylvia Plath, "Gulliver"]


Ruth said...

My heart aches especially for those deaths of hard working people who were simply their jobs and so often doing jobs that make our own lives easier and safer.

Carlene said...

How sad, and sobering too. I am immediately reminded of Frost: "Out, Out," and Carruth: "Emergency Haying" by your lines about imagining losing fingers. Is this the way of it? Writers--artists--and hands? Do we connect viscerally with these literary losses, especially those we fear ourselves? I am always queasy and uncomfortable, thinking of Oedipus and the brooches. Would a singer cringe at the story of Philomela?

Points to ponder.