Virgil Ennid In The North Country


He will allow, if you press him on the point, that it can be

A hard go sometimes—Holsteins have no concept

Of weekends, or Christmas, for that matter—but he will say so

With a smile that alternates between suggesting

And practically gushing contentment.

He has, for thirty-plus years now, worked some four hundred head,

Both dairy and beef, in this cold, flat valley

Where low-pressure systems come to die,

Bringing the detritus of flurries and low clouds with them,

Sometimes even into the middle part of May. 

He is not unaware that the outlook for his homestead is hazy, at best;

He has consciously blocked out

The amount he is into the bank for feed and the new Case tractor,

And both of his sons have long since fled south,

Preferring the comfort of powerpoint presentations and cubicles

To a cold, dark milking house in the middle of January,

But he has seen the future come and go,

In the huge, Fifties-movie flying saucers of the forlorn satellite dishes

That still point directly at the horizon

Outside the shuttered and foreclosed upon houses

Which litter any number of the back roads,

Or the yellowing signs promoting cheap internet access

On the windows of the small, half-empty strip malls in Canton or Gouverneur,

All cause enough for him to opine, on virtually any occasion

He has the opportunity to do, I have glimpsed the future,

And I can confirm that it clearly ain’t what it used to be.


He could have, if he’d been of a mind to do so, gone in another direction;

Unlike most of the farm kids, who were packaged as a unit

Into the General Ed track, where they suffered through

The monotone sonambulance of a mistake of the Tenure Committee

(Or, conversely, the fevered excitement of a recent grad

Of the Normal School up in Potsdam, whose enthusiasm

Would occasionally last clear into the first week of November),

He had tested himself into the College Prep classes,

Where several of his teachers were fond of telling him

Virgil, you need to understand that you’re a pretty bright kid. 

You can do other things, go other places,

And one or two of his instructors were actually offended

That he chose to take over the farm immediately upon graduation,

But he knew early on—no, he had always known—that he would remain

In this place, on this patch of land, even though he could not even begin

To explain the whys and wherefores of his decision,

Language being the ungainly and wholly inadequate instrument

That it is (This is why, he would inevitably say at some point

Every Sunday morning at breakfast with Gerald Glass and Earl Tiefenauer,

The both of them rolling their eyes in tandem, knowing what came next,

The Akwesasnes went hundreds of years without a written language;

They were smart enough to know that all words do is just get in the way),

But he knew that what was in the gentle, serene chugging, the rhythmic pop 

Of the ancient machinery at Karsten’s place over on the Heuvelton Road

Flinging another squared-off hay bale into his jerry-built wagon,

Or in the blue sky which stretched,  impossibly cloudless and glorious,

From the St. Lawrence up north

Down to Fort Drum and several forevers either way besides,

Was greater and weightier than anything in the cloth-bound red Bibles

Which sat in the pews at the Presbyterian church in Madrid

(Not his father’s church, but the blustering, cocksure Baptists,

Sure as death itself as to the absolute inambiguity of the Word

Were simply not his kind of people), which he had begun attending

Some half-dozen years ago—not because he was a particularly spiritual man

By any means; he had simply been unable to sufficiently convince himself

That all of this could happen strictly by accident.


9 thoughts on “Virgil Ennid In The North Country

  1. Quite a portrait of life and landscape, as well as difficult choices between lifestyles… “To explain the whys and wherefores of his decision, / Language being the ungainly and wholly inadequate instrument” Enjoyed your poetic story. Nice work!

  2. This bond between man and the land, man and his stock runs deeper than words can really explain and far back to our ancestral consciousness. I’m glad that some men, like Virgil here, still heed the call.

  3. Oh I so loved reading about this man, and his deep connection with the land. I admire him, through your words, for taking his heart’s path, though agri-culture as it is practiced now makes it difficult for men like him. Fantastic writing! Loved it.

  4. You wrote of an eons-old struggle with dignity, respect, grace. You invited your readers to understand and appreciate the challenges of living off and with the land. You did it masterfully.

  5. i think virgil and i need have a long long (wordless) talk someday. maybe out in the parking lot of the baptist church after everyone’s gone home to sunday dinner and reality tv reruns and the odd ballgame; or maybe walking to the milking house under a low icy morning sky. … something about satellite dishes and futility and what is the reality of real.
    i’m continually impressed by your ability to sound ideas and confront the big questions with such ease and delicacy, and through such powerfully wrought character and voice.
    that last line invites so many paths of thought i can hardly choose which one to follow.

  6. Captivating! I want to feast my eyes on this man, see the character I know is written upon his face and presents itself in the movement of his body… Listen to the few words he does say. Beautiful story painted here!

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