Saturday, January 17, 2015

Andrew Grace

Andrew Grace [Shenandoah]

Grant Wood, oil on hardboard, 1934


Noon. A thresher waits
to wash the debris from his face into
a stone bowl. His hair is stiff
with lice. A rooster
missed its hour, tries
to scream the sun back down; it is Iowa,
1892. A draft horse the color
of zinc tongues it own shadow.
The thresher is about to join a table
of men — fourteen of them, as in the Last Supper —
in the house
for lunch. The string of Xs
formed by the backs of the men’s overalls marks a negation.
They lift the offering to their
mouths: blood, flesh;
coffee, rabbit.


Their minds are on process:
thrash, shake, winnow. Two thousand
bushels bagged in a pigeon-crusted loft.
Two thousand to go.
Man in the hopper,
man on the stack of moth-gutted
wheat. Two horses lashed to the ends
of a rafter, the drugged circumference
of their labor turns the machine.
The man in the hopper
pushes wheat into a chute, which separates
grain from chaff. A boy clears the waste.
A shroud of white moths rises
from his arms.


The thresher’s forehead is the color of torn roots, his face
and neck empurpled by sun, spelled only by quick
reshufflings of cirrus.
He is not
unhappy, only
afflicted by variables. Hail, rust,
blight, eyespot,
black chaff,
pink seed, flood, endless depth of sky, endless dark of his bedroom
in which the eye drowns.


Ornate wallpaper, the smell of cooked meat
like the flush of warmth back
to a cold extremity:
women bring bowls
to the table, men in
fellowship with men as a reward for labor.
But for every spotless rack
of cerulean china
there is a night
when the rooster
conjures a false dawn;
in its intervals
silence rages in the English garden;
candle flames like commas
prolong the dark. This is why
aprons are bleached daily,
why the barn is scrubbed as reclamation from
scat and sun, why
each man asks for more meat, more labor
as if bodies
are made to be consumed.


To chew the roots of cowbane is a way out. Laudanum under
the sink is
a way out. Also, the concept
of being a metaphor
for wheat:
when torn open: raw, prone material
that broken across
a machine or a winter
is malleable to
any use; touch me and blue shale beneath
us is tamped an inch
towards the underworld.
What if they did not want
a way out? Night’s oaks swallow wrens, so dark
the barn is imperceptible. To sit at that
table emptied of its men is to
learn to take solace in what pours
from the window’s open mouth.


The last man raises
his face from the bowl. The prairie
is both hurtling and
standing still. It will
not rearrange itself no
matter how deeply he scrawls his attention
over it. He takes in the thick
concussions of light.
He is drawn back to the barn
and past it, where pheasants explode
from the ditches. He is not hungry
anymore. Someone will take his seat
at the table. Someone will lower their head
and ask the Lord to be made
more bare to the sun.
A clot of moths unravels
across the man’s eyes. He asks for no other
veil over the stillness.
And the Lord

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