Like Fenceposts Down the Row
By: Oliver Reed


We took a look in the northwest barn and
saw where the boards had fallen from the wall.
And after a while,
we figured he knew what he was talking about.

We touched the newness in the oldness,
saw the future in the present in the past,
and I remember how I tried
not to laugh at it—its realness, its magic.
We were just kids then, and much time has since been passed.

Some years earlier, when the market was down,
the Parson’s great-grandfather had bought that farm, not figuratively speaking,
and when he died he left it to him, the Parson;
that’s when he said his life began.

He got my vote for religion,
and I felt lucky just to have met him;
he was the greatest man I’ve ever known.

We slipped past the cracks, stood out on the precipice
that overlooked the bottom, and we thought about what it was he had said back then,
how it was that he wished he could do it all over again.

He’d spoken of the first days
and nights and of the time when they sang a song in the woods and
how now he was sad, sad to see them go.

He talked about rolling over in the clover by the creek, falling asleep,
and wondering why the birds thought to fly and how if he could do the same
and have the same view
he’d drift across his bluest day and see his girl
who used to stay down by the canebrakes on this side of the highway sign.

He’d talk until the dark of night,
and he had no reason to tell us lies.

He spoke about a ride on the tram,
about that happy crack-boom-bam and
of the people who’d throw flower petals on the road
for nearly ten miles—
down past the chapel whose bell hung from a tree,
round the cove near the bottle-mouth on the river below
where you could see that hill because of how tall pines used to grow there.

He said that if we could think it then we could see it,
and he made the both of us care
somehow.

It took what seemed like all day to get to his place,
and I remember how we complained to him—
talking about where the town road ends and the side roads begin and
its nothing but what’s left of blacktop on clay
for the rest of the way because that was the way everybody
thought they had to go back then,
at least I’ve heard that was so—back in the day, back before the highway came.

But for us, I guess to be just like him,
we’d cross the miles,
close our eyes, walk up the gravel on the drive, and dream
pretty and loud and wide,
wide to see the rainbow bridge and the street of gold,
wide because he told us that it was so, and because
we knew it to be true.

When we’d leave, he’d say to come back again—never making a mention of when,
and so nearly everyday we’d go back to see him
either telling our folks we’d be visiting a friend of a friend
or just telling them nothing,
because we were ashamed of him…

I remember how we left some things unspoken,
and I regret the way that we avoided certain questions.
But that was then.

From the property line
we could see his Mrs. moving about the kitchen,
and so we’d stand around, holding our ground
for what seemed like hours at a time, whatever need be,
just waiting to see if she’d step out on the porch and
motion us in.

And when she’d concede, we’d go full on,
make our way like a tickertape parade in procession round the square,
only faster.

He’d call her by name and tell her that he loved her ways.
He said she’d chased away the rain on his darkest day,
and that for his life, he couldn’t understand why it was that she loved him…

Crossing their lawn brought on a new disposition;
it was strange, the strongest sense of change that I ever
remember having.

We became more solemn and full of wonder—
not sure of what was in store,
if this time would be like last time, if
things would keep on being the same
as they had been.

I don’t know if I’d say that we were young men,
but we were old enough to have mixed ideas about what it meant
to be friends with one another, much less with the Parson.
But that was our own failing,
and it had nothing to do with whether or not we trusted him.
The fact is that we had been around these other persons,
their worries and their concerns,
and so we’d become worried, and we’d become concerned,
worried and concerned just like them.
That’s the best I can put to the feeling.

But we were always hopeful
and not wholly without reason.

His place was grand,
and although we thought it was all because of him,
he’d shrug of the suggestion and say that it didn’t even come close
to what it had once been.

We were given to speculation, more than subject to ideal inclinations,
and in the end, it came as no surprise that his words would give rise to our vision.
And so we listened and we dreamed—a new utopia, a life sublime,
one born of a paradise that was ours for the asking…

It was all that we needed to begin,
but much has happened since then.

About midway between either side
and halfway between the front porch and the drive,
that beat-down, sand path turned into a flagstone walk with cracks
the size of a fat man’s finger, or maybe thicker.
We always figured the rock was brought up
from the bottleneck on the riverside
and that it was his father, and his father’s brothers, and his father’s cousins,
and maybe even some of their friends that must have gathered them together and hauled them up there
sometime late in the summer when the water was slow,
barely flowing, or maybe just a trickle, or maybe completely still.

There’s really no way to know for certain how it happened
because he didn’t remember anything
that pertained to its creation.
He said it could have been when
he was too young to pay attention,
or it could have been that he wasn’t even born then,
but he’d never offer up any real reasons, and so we stopped asking him.
Either way, I guess it didn’t matter so much
to him, but to us, at least back then,
it was like something from heaven.

I’d give all I’ve got to be back on that walk.
I’d slow down, better note the lessons; I’d take everything in…

I guess maybe we sometimes bothered him,
but we felt welcome and having been welcomed in,
we’d vie for a try in one of the new seats in his rocking chair collection--
ladderback, fiddleback, slatback, you name it,
he had them there for us to sit in.

The porch was kept in rotation, at least ten
at a time, and the barns were stacked up
to the lofts besides.
We could hardly imagine what it must have been like,
his sermons, the way things must have once been.

He said that we impressed him, that we had genuine discussions.
One time he showed us
where it was that he made his gin,
and I remember, once or twice, that we talked about women.
But no matter where the subject seemed to come from
or in what direction it took heading,
everyone who commenced to talking would end up laughing--
sometimes crying, sometimes singing and clapping, but mostly laughing.

That’s how I learned the best things I know.
I learned them sitting there with him, and in thinking on our situation.

We lined up like fenceposts down the orchard row,
dropped our shoes when the weather was good
and took off without a clue as to the cues he’d been giving—
raring to go, to young to know the tempo
of a given conversation:

we were lost like he was hidden,
and I guess that’s why we went to him.

We rocked that row in midsummer and in mid-afternoon,
and in the dead of winter under the light of a crescent moon
and other times by no light at all.
But that’s not nearly all there was to it…

Troubled and scared or happy and carefree,
a mat for muddy feet or a cap to cut the sun,
we sat that porch during seedtime in the spring
and come harvest in the fall…
I remember him saying Grace,
and I remember us feeling grateful.

There’s been drought and the grasses dying,
cloud-filled skies, thunderbolts and rain--
one after another, all on the same day.
And I can remember the flowers in the pasture
when they got their first bloom,
and I can remember when they lost them all,
frost on every single one of them.
I remember him smiling. I remember everything.

We wore boards on that porch clean through
tongue and groove right down to the beams
that his father’s father set with his own two hands.
And I know what held them—deep-down,
piers set like stone below the sand,
dug deep to be like cement in the clay beneath
the bottomland they were put in.

And we knew it was true because he let us look and see.
He told us that was just the way things used to be back then…

And so we sat and we listened, listened to him say
how one day he’d move on down on the bottom,
get on the river, build a new house and start all over living life
like his father, a life there on the waterfront.
He said it right then.
He said that was what he’d do if he could do it all over again.



 

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