Freedom, New Hampshire: For My Brother, 1925-1957

We came to visit the cow
Dying of the fever.
Towle said it was already
Shoveled under, in a secret
Burial place in the woods.
We prowled through the woods
Weeks, we never
Found where. Other
Kids other summers
Must have found the place
And asked. Why is it
Green here? The rich
Guess a grave, maybe,
The poor think a pit
For dung, like the one
We shoveled in in the fall
That came up green
The next year, that may as well
Have been the grave
Of a cow or something
For all that shows. A kid guesses
By whether his house has a bathroom
We found a cow skull once; we thought it was
From one of the asses in the Bible, for the sun
Shone into the holes through which it had seen
Earth as an endless belt carrying gravel, had heard
its truculence cursed, had learned how sweat
Stinks, and had brayed — shone into the holes
With solemn and majestic light, as if some
Skull somewhere could be Baalbek or the Parthenon.
That night passing Towle’s barn
We saw lights. Towle had lassoed a calf
By its hind legs, and he tugged against the grip
Of the darkness. The cow stood chewing millet.
Derry and I took hold, too, and hauled.
It was sopping with darkness when it came free.
It was a bull calf. The cow mopped it awhile,
And we walked around it with a lantern,
And it was sunburned, somehow, and beautiful.
It took a dug as the first business
And sneezed and drank at the milk of light.
When we got it balanced on its legs, it went wobbling
Toward the night. Walking home in darkness
We saw the July moon looking on Freedom, New Hampshire,
We smelled the fall in the air, it was the summer,
We thought. Oh, this is but the summer!
Once I saw the moon
Drift into the sky like a bright
Pregnancy pared
From a goddess who thought
To be beautiful she must keep slender —
Cut loose, and drifting up there
To happen by itself —
And waning, in lost labor;
As we lost our labor
Too — afternoons
When we sat on the gate
By the pasture, under the ledge.
Buzzing and skirling on toilet-
papered combs tunes
To the rumble-seated cars
Taking the Ossipee road
On Sundays; for
Though dusk would come upon us
Where we sat, and though we had
Skirled out our hearts in the music.
Yet the dandruffed
Harps we skirled it on
Had done not much better than
Flies, which buzzed, when quick
We trapped them in our hands,
Which went silent when we
Crushed them, which we bore
Downhill to the meadow lark’s
Nest full of throats
Which Derry charmed and combed
With an Arabian air, while I
Chucked crushed flies into
Innards I could not see,
For the night had fallen
And the crickets shrilled on all sides
In waves, as if the grass leaves
Shrieked by hillsides
As they grew, and the stars
Made small flashes in the sky,
Like mica flashing in rocks
On the chokecherried ledge
Where bees I stepped on once
Hit us from behind like a shotgun.
And where we could see
Windowpanes in Freedom flash
And Loon Lake and Winnipesaukee
Flash in the sun
And the blue world flashing.
The fingerprints of our eyeballs would zigzag
On the sky; the clouds that came drifting up
Our fingernails would drift into the thin air.
in bed at night there was music if you listened.
Of an old surf breaking far away in the blood.
Kids who come by chance on grass green for a man
Can guess cow, dung, man, anything they want,
To them it is the same. To us who knew him as he was
After the beginning and before the end, it is green
For a name called out of the confusions of the earth —
Winnipesaukee coined like a moon, a bull calf
Dragged from the darkness where it breaks up again,
Larks which long since have crashed for good in the grass
To which we fed the flies, buzzing ourselves like flies,
While the crickets shrilled beyond us, in July. . . .
The mind may sort it out and give it names —
When a man dies he dies trying to say without slurring
The abruptly decaying sounds. It is true
That only flesh dies, and spirit flowers without stop
For men, cows, dung, for all dead things; and it is good, yes
But an incarnation is in particular flesh
And the dust that is swirled into a shape
And crumbles and is swirled again had but one shape
That was this man. When he is dead the grass
Heals what he suffered, but he remains dead,
And the few who loved him know this until they die.