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Abandoning the Farm
by Jim Armstrong
If the milkweed opened its leaves mid-summer
in intolerable sunlight,
there was a sulfurous fluttering
above the pale flowerheads.
Beyond the clear pattern of your fields, the woodlot
rose in a tethered cloud, its shadows
breathing like horses.
Later, in the shallow dusk
when the pear tree rustled to the apple tree, and fireflies
spelled the names of girls you didn't remember,
your thoughts were columns of figures, the polychrome bags
of seed, names of cattle.
But in evening you noticed the flat lead
on the pond, the eerie splash
of bird lime on a shingle;
you longed for loosening, the way
the cultivator, parked by the shed, forgot its duty
in braids of bindweed. The way wind upturned the leaves
before rain, and the trees hissed silver.
Even until the last you kept your promises.
The white pilasters beside the open door,
the Euclidian gables, echoed purified light,
but the barn leaned into the weather, its long spine
bent to the hay-smelling dark,
the violence of mice and owls.
Nothing you built could outlast
your head on the pillow,
watching the daylight fall through the window.
What you had learned, what you had lived for
was not the crop, but the field.
Jim Armstrong was raised in Michigan, where he first learned the pleasures of landscape. He has an M.F.A. in poetry from Western Michigan University and a Ph.D. in English literature from Boston University. He currently teaches creative writing at Northwestern University. He lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter.
This poem was originally published in the Winter 1997 issue of Orion. To order a copy of this issue, please visit The Orion Society Marketplace, call (413) 528-4422, write The Orion Society, 195 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA 01230, or e-mail us at email@example.com.
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