It’s a wonder they didn’t all of them die of the
sun those days. Remember
Ole’s forehead and the backs of his hands?
The fair-haired sons of Norway in their bright
Wisconsin fields, the map
of blessed second chances writ in tasseled
corn. (The damage writ
in melanin.) I never could stand it, my father
would say, by which he meant the morning
constitutional: the dose
of electric fencing Ole found was just the
cure for frozen joints.
But joints be damned, the rest of it my father
loved, he’d cast about for a portion I
could manage, maybe
Linda could fetch the cows. Poor man. He little
thought how quickly
the race declines. Ourselves and our posterity.
It all alarmed me: dung slicks, culvert, swollen
teats, the single narrow
wire above the barbed ones, commotion
of flies on the rim
of the pail. We’re better at living on paper,
some of us, better at blessings already
secured. The fence?
It was for animals. And insulated, quaintly,
with a species of porcelain
knob. That part, at least, I had the wit
to find benign, like the basket of straw-flecked
eggs. A touch of homely
caution in the liable-to-turn-on-us world.
Ordain and establish.
And breakable too. An old man at his battery-
charged devotions, double-fisted on
the six-volt fence. In order
to form. A measure of guesswork, a measure
of faithful refraining-from-
harm, let us honor the virtues of form.
And all the dead in company, if only
not to shame them.