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Earlier, through stones and burdock and under

barbed wire, the dog had raced each August day

out to the fields of timothy and beyond

to where the Guernseys, swollen with the glut

of summer, grazed beneath mountains of cloud.

Darting and feinting, she brought in the herd

past the long shadows of the row of trees,

the maples and box elders and forked birch,

granite picked from the fields lining their ranks,

and through the muddy barnyard, each to her stall

to wait for callused hands to pull the teats,

relief as the milk sang in the galvanized pail.

But now with snow lying waist-deep in the barnyard,

life is defined by the narrow paths a man

can shovel.  The dog trots out to the pump and sniffs

cold iron against the acrid moist manure

smell of the barn.  Pitchforks and rubber boots.

The steamy breath of cows.  The temperature

for weeks not topping zero.  Each day he breaks

ice from the trough, hefts feed sacks, splits stove wood.

In the long solitary hours a man

inclined to thought ranges the world and sighs,

imagining a calling, what one does

with leisure, tended lawns, and books at hand;

feeling here in winter's dusk that pleasure

is meager as heat.  But who would guess his heart

when, back on the porch, the barn chores done, he gazes

out at the night to see, eerie and transient

as wordless longing, the pale blue northern lights?


Jan Schreiber



2000; originally printed in Pivot.  Reprinted by permission
of the author.


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