Let me tell you how it is with me:
a bad back, spine like a snakeskin
shed in the shadow of a pinelet,
weakened innards, a liver fit for soup,
and a brain the size of a lentil. The worst
is the one toe, crooked like a staff
carried too long by shepherds.
One day, a fine mid-autumn
with sun’s eye full open against air’s chill,
I took to the woods to find my dinner.
What with one thing and another
I swayed and shimmered my way along
the path, gravel sticking to my knees from a fall,
my felt shoes catching stones.
But still, I got to the gate where geese cross
coming home from the pond.
What would do me that night?
I was one only, with an oven fit
for a child with money, my prize.
Each night I lit it with a fagot
of wormwood and some willow leaves
with an iron basket suspended over the fire.
Good for roasting corn and potatoes.
Tonight I was hungry against the chill coming.
No ice yet, that was full winter
but now a clutch of eggs to boil in the kettle?
Truly then I saw a girl
lovely as a stalk of silver grain
come around a corner that an oak made
with my barn wall. She carried a bundle
squirming like a peck of tadpoles
and clutched to her chest a stack of books
bound with a strap. She saw me
as a wraith and ran. Was I a wraith?
My toe hurt like hell itself gaped open.
But Ectoplasm I wasn’t. Plain flesh.
Still, she was afraid. Then I could see her babe’s
mouth open, its cries louder with each bounce,
the flannel it was bound with coming loose.
As I watched, standing bent over my toe,
she dropped the books. The belt around them opened.
Pages fanned out on the ground
like parchment put to flame.
What did all this mean in the daylight?
The girl, her babe, the lost books cascading
and over everything pain ascending,
covering our light, all that hope,
the future somehow gone dark as a cavern.
I bent over the mess, began to gather it up.