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Jabez’s Farm

by Rex L. Veeder


He said the farm was his
when the county took it
and to prove it, buried
himself somewhere close in
and promised to turn up
in a furrow or be
bad luck in the new house—
singing in the back bedroom,
opening the kitchen drawers.

He lives in the barn then
and by the thickening garden
there’s a blur of cottonwoods
and his face is never there.
His body is always changing.

Jabez may not be a man,
but the tree next to the woman
or clothes moving on the line
in the heavy light of morning,
light like a blanket of fog.
Still this is not enough,
he promised to be taking,
always taking what is his
and the farm he knows is his.

*
But now they come, calling
it home. What secrets do they
hide, knowing the shadow Jabez.
What secrets do they never
share, as if the cost of life
is not to say which way
they are going, or who
didn’t sleep all last night.
And they invest in each other,
make up rules: to get up
early, to stay late in
the fields, and grow fond of
garden smells in early spring.
The husband finds legends
inscribed on weathered barn walls,
learns the graffiti of plowing
and everything the earth suggests
says stay away, this is mine.
But they grind their coffee
and call it the home place.

*
She’s resting in a ditch
clogged with twisted limbs,
reading a book with moons
gone to worms and fences
to weed. She is bone white
and her hands are large enough
to pitchfork hay and haul
buckets to the hog litter.
She waits, sleeping too long,
so long the night is gone
and she leaves the ditch to find
her bed, where morning light
can pour over her like milk
until only her shadow’s left.

*
Weather on the horizon.
The husband holds a horse by
its front legs. The horse starts
and the man hesitates.
It’s early morning and wild
enough that he is afraid
to cross the yard to the house.
His hair is moved by a moist wind.
The farm goes green in morning light.

The husband says “Jabez,”
and the barn falls in the yard,
its front door slants in a moan
while the loft is on the ground.
The husband is running,
his skin peels from his hands
and bones begin falling away—
straw in the tornado.

The next day in the house
he talks with his wife. She
shells peas, saying summer
was hard, fall drawn out thin.
And Jabez says the farm’s his
as the husband sees the lines
down and wonders how long
silence runs from here to there.

*
There is a curse, it’s Jabez.
The husband buried in wheat
finally knew the farm is his.

And she in the garden,
in the heavy spring sun,
was hoeing and saw shoots
turned white, like table salt
or horns bleached in the sun,
and she knew the farm is his.

The husband is wrapped in
flowers in the front room
and neighbors whisper “Jabez,”
and she remembers her
husband’s voice like a sand storm,
the sucking sound in the grain bin—
the way his voice went silent in wheat.

 

Rex L. Veeder has been an associate editor for Pebble and has published a number of magazines, including Prarie Schooner and Quartet. Presenly he’s with Writers on the Road in Arizona, in Who’s Who in American Poetry, and lends a hand editing Blue Moon. (Spring 1975)


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