Abandoned Schoolhouse on Long Branch

The final scholar scrawls his long
Black name in aisle dust, licks the air
With his tendril double tongue,
Coils up in shadow of a busted chair

And dozes like the farmer boys
Who never got straight the capital
Of Idaho, found out the joys
Of long division, or learned what all

Those books were all about. Most panes
Are gone now and the web-milky windows
Are open to the world. Gold dust-grains
Swirl up, and show which way the wind blows.

K.B. + R.J., cut deep
In a darkened heart on the cloakroom wall.
Now Katherine Johnson and Roger sleep
Quite past the summons of the morning bell.

The teacher sleeps narrow too, on yonder
Side of Sterling Mountain, as stern
With her grave as with a loutish blunder
In the Bible verse she set them to learn.

Sunset washes the blackboard. Bees
Return to the rich attic nest
Where much is stored. Their vocalese
Entrances the native tranquil dust.

:: Fred Chappell, Source (1985)


A Hunger

(Tuam, County Galway) 

The farmer comes home late from the pub
his one evening free from work,
and finds what he feared, the heifer sick,
one hoof jutting from the straining rump,
the other turned back inside the womb--
as if the calf had lost its way,
nature itself unsure of the path.

It's no miracle, as he rolls his sleeve,
then plunges his arm, elbow deep, into the cow,
shifts the limb, a difficult gear, into place.
Now, he tightens the knotted rope around both,
and pulls until the shocked face emerges,
then spreads the opening wider, his hands
bristling with blood and water,
while the beast drones its low, unhuman cry.

Mastery is nothing but perfection of habit,
years on an unwanted farm, nursing cows,
nursing the mother who begged him to stay,
sentencing him to his blank inheritance,
until what tumbles into straw is an afterthought,
the moment spilling into absence--
What I do is not done out of love;
in such loneliness I carry my dead.

Later, after the mother licks the new calf clean,
and it starts to hobble on its spindly legs,
he will guide it to the tit, the dumb mouth
sucking anything, even the bloody sac
that hangs deceptively behind the tail
and, if eaten, could kill.

:: Daniel Tobin, Where the World Is Made (1999)