It Happened at Wind Sings, Trees Whisper Farm
The wind, broken and wild,
lifts the plastic from the frame with a bellows
like the flood-driven river pitching and plummeting over the falls,
then slams it back down,
shuddering and pounding the whole frame
so I think it’s a window
to a different time, a different place,
like when I was a child in a house as ordinary as any house of the poor
but on land people called the ghost woods,
that place of mystery, of awe, of absence,
of the unexplained where the dead refused to rest
and I a child who knew no better,
was never afraid,
except of my own bed and that woman who came at two-twenty every night.
They all came,
doing what all ghosts do,
moving furniture, unlocking doors, pacing the floors,
linoleum square to black linoleum square
though I never knew if their outstretched hands were an offering
or a gesture of need.
Every night I left buttered bread and saucers of milk
and was sure the cleaned dishes were as good as words
strung out from them to me but it didn’t stop
that woman who lived and died years before I was born
from screaming at me that it was her room,
so I slept on the living room’s red-vinyl couch
where there was nothing to scare me,
not chairs scraping across floors
or walls falling away to trees
hoarding their own shadows in the night
as men in linen suits, women in circled cloth
strolled arm in arm on the lantern-lit lawn,
and in the living room, victrola, music
I now know was eighteenth century dance.
The couples in their intricate patterns,
slide, step, step and twirl,
partner to partner, arm catching arm,
never a missed step
until I’d move, sit up, cough,
and in the sudden silence
they’d stop and turn and look at me
and it was still beautiful
as if that too had been choreographed,
those women in their ringlets,
the smooth-faced men straining in their fine clothes,
all of them suddenly gone and only the beige walls and me, alone.
Almost every night the same
and every night something as small as a sniff, a twitched shoulder,
would leave me lying there in the stillness
with nothing but the magnolia nestling its cream-faced babies,
leathery leaves clattering in wind,
the lawn’s faint pulse layered in light.
Strange, the small stones of silence we carry though our lives.
All those years the nightly dance belonged only to me
as did my certainty that each small thing
lived and breathed its own small breaths
whether an oak, the yellow-bellied sapsucker tearing at the bark of that oak,
a blade of grass or the dragonfly clinging to its edge.
Even my short-handled hoe, the chairs in which I sat
though even then I knew that some things could not be allowed to be true
and still be lived through
which is why I promised myself I’d tell no one
about the spiders, the granddaddy’s,
that afternoon I’d duct-taped rips in the dingy plastic,
tossing the scrap and torn pieces of tape aside
until I was finished and saw them, nearly a dozen,
stuck, each on its separate scattered wad of tape,
their free legs, eye-lash delicate, waving, frantic,
entire bodies straining
at what must have seemed to them
an earth gone suddenly strange.
What happened, but of course,
legs circling and tangling, the pull of their bodies
I could feel in my own,
one leg freed, two new ones stuck or a newly freed one
stuck again and me with a sewing needle, between a stuck leg and the tape.
It all seemed so random,
chaotic, like a child in frustrated hysterics, legs anywhere and everywhere,
until I did what people do,
when we talk to those we know don’t understand,
telling dogs to stay off couches, begging bees to not sting:
I scolded, keep still, and told the spiders
to move their legs out of my way;
point them, I said,
gesturing, the way people will, away and up, even pointing myself.
But here: the thing I know I should not say: They did.
I wouldn’t believe it either.
But I swear.
There they were. One at a time, legs still, pressed together in military precision,
pointing off into the blanched sky
like a seven-gun salute,
the long-legged in my hand, and when that one was freed,
the next wad of tape, the next spider.
One by one,
they scurried off, the five-and six-and the lucky few seven-and eight-legged ones
disappearing into the weeds and mint around the greenhouse foundation.
I don’t know what to do with it either. This world we share
with the smallest protozoa, buffalo who ice skate,
weeping elephants, seizure-alert dogs, and, oh, how many
human lives saved? Harvest flies, red-eyed cicadas and jumping spiders,
the stone on the river’s mossy banks, gray with lichen,
the stone tumbling in a hard current toward a far field,
this multitude of intelligences,
which we lack, of which we are so needful,
this thing which so frightens us we must enter the gates of heaven
clothed in skins of animals,
clothed in sorrow and sin,
and when the known world tilts and lurches
from its orbit and we swing wildly between earth and sky,
what to do
but hope for the green hand
up through ground
to hold us on.