Ode: Thoughts While Clearing Ice From Stock Tanks – Ronald Tobey

A worn ash branch 2-feet long Y-shaped
the dowser whom I expected
old man toothless gaps stringy hair
gray unwashed beard hanging to his chest
patched clothes draping off a frame
lanky from cheap whiskey
as thin as an eighteen-year old fashion model
speaking in Appalachian accent I can’t decode
not the six-foot tall fifty-year old equipment operator
prosperous real estate salesman
wears spotless Land’s End outdoor work gear
keeps his well-drilling truck cab warm and clean
auger gleams in the cold November sun
most of his time on his mobile phone
juggles appointments
rod’s handles worn polished repeated use
wanders for an hour around the forested hillside
where we would build our cabin
before announcing
the divining rod pointing to the carpet
of decaying grass and tree bark
fallen oak leaves deer droppings bear scat
right here this point
upon my skeptical nod of assent
starts up his rig bores a hole through the clay
smooth rocks and boulders
below rain runoff underground channels
past tree roots
through limestone strata
at 90 feet an aquifer
gives us a steady stream
through flood and drought for house
for barn and frost-free hydrants in fields
we test the water for 500 chemicals
biologics industrial pollutants
no bacteria, no animal waste, no gasoline
or diesel fuel, no Sulphur, no fertilizers,
no contaminants at all
nothing but H2O pure as if distilled
we could sell it to city consumers
who never taste real water
or use it to produce craft vodka
compensate losses from our farming


An early black and white photo of Frost
dressed in dark jacket white shirt with long sleeves
closed with French cuffs and links
as for a session of teaching or sitting for photography
looks young still
already tastes success
his face drawn
sits in a wood armchair
leather covered cushion against the back
writes on a rough cut homemade easel
end of one board raw with saw marks
set across the arms
an opened booklet in left hand
pen held in right – a wedding ring?
signs an autograph perhaps on inside cover
I first see the photo in college
imagine the setting is his home
kitchen in Franconia.
That’s the poet’s life, I learn,
one summer with uncle and cousins in Jefferson
a few miles from Franconia
the farm land surrounding my grandparents’ cottage
cows knock down the white picket fence
my mother’s parents erect in a fit of picturesque
as they walk through Pricilla Brook flowing past
stir and muddy the water
the farmer hays the field by the cottage
he leaves a tuft of flowers
I fancy this a tribute
similarly when brush hogging
first growth grass in our cattle fields
I leave a plot of weed flowers uncut
I walk the fields to check on calves
on water levels in the stock tanks
remove grass and turf dropped from the cows’ cuds
Autumn blown leaves
ice in the Winter
I remember, of how, Frost
already thirty on his grandfather’s farm in Derry
treks the cow pasture
clears leaves from the spring
we share Platonism a useful metaphor
I move to California live in Berkeley three summers
I joke to no one’s amusement
San Francisco gave Frost to New Hampshire
New Hampshire returns the favor with me


Summers I swim in the Baker River
bicycle up Highland Street hill out of town
by Hatch’s dairy that delivered milk
to the Plymouth Inn during the War
through Smith Covered Bridge
hike across Barney’s farm fields
bordering the shallow river
with blue clay banks
Barney keeps dairy cows
delivers milk in the village
I and buddies transform into blue aboriginals
clay covering our skin
caking our hair
mother shouts as I pedal away from the house
“don’t get polio”


park paths silver ice
childhood memory run slide
face up swelling hurts


Storms triumph
twilight fills with processions of black clouds
white light between flashes
foam churns on ships’ wakes
beyond flooded grassy fields
forests of wind felled trees
sails of a thousand ships
drop below the gray horizon
of the wine dark sea

smoke of the burning city
floods the sky
with silence no pleas

only you alone on the shore
mourn your impetuosity
beat your breasts, O maidens, and rend your garments

Image via Pixabay

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