Poetry Fiction 2009

Homestead

GOOSEFEATHERS

When I was twelve I sat in the streamliner alone
with a shoebox of sandwiches and deviled eggs
my mother made, and ate everything right away
as I headed north by the Sound where the trestles
of derelict trolley lines roosted nations of seagulls.
From South Station I took a taxi across Boston
to a shabby, black locomotive with a coal car
that pulled two rickety coaches. It puffed past
long lines of empty commuter trains, past
suburbs dense with houses, past the milltowns
of Lawrence and Lowell, until the track curved
into New Hampshire’s pastures of Holstein cattle.
My grandfather waited in his overalls at the depot
with horse and buggy to drive me to the farmhouse,
to fricasseed chicken, corn on the cob, and potatoes.
At nine o’clock, after shutting up the chickens
from skunk and fox, we sat by the cabinet radio
for Gabriel Heatter booming news of the war.
I slept through the night on my goosefeather bed.

ALTERATIONS

My great-grandfather built the woodshed in 1865,
cobbled together from clapboard, with enough space
for a five-hole outhouse and worn farm equipment.
At the age of fifty, when I moved here to stay
and snowdrifts piled tall in the yard, I carried
kindling and firewood from woodshed through toolshed
to kitchen range and Glenwood parlor stove,
without stepping outside. After a dozen years
of hauling, I gave up and installed an oil furnace.

The woodshed became a museum of rusted scythes.
Now that old age prospers, walking to the car
over the driveway’s ice turns perilous. Last fall,
I hired a carpenter’s crew to expand the woodshed
into a garage with an electric door opening from inside,
as tidy and decorative as suburban Long Island.
No wonder that I backed out one afternoon
without raising the door, smashing it to pieces,
like an idiot, or a man speeding into his eightieth year.

Presented by

Donald Hall’s recent books include Unpacking the Boxes: A Memoir of a Life in Poetry (2008) and White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946–2006. He served as the U.S. poet laureate from 2006 to 2007.

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