hills like not a goddamn thing

I had been, through much of my youth,
Under the care and tutelage of my Uncle Virgil,
He being the sole remainder of my father and his brothers,
The rest taken by life’s wind and wuthering,
Anzio and clogged arteries, sneak attacks and suicides.
The final remnant of my patrimony
(But an anomaly among them,
Squat and blocky where his brothers had been all willowy height,
Bestowed a high reedy voice among a half-dozen baritones)
The one entrusted, due to attrition as well as temperament,
With the shepherding of the family farm through another generation
(The original design having involved my father taking the reins,
But, though he came to the plowed rows, scrubby old apple trees
And lumpy moguls of the place with the hopes and misigivings
Of a soon-to-be- jilted suitor,
He was a dreamer, a man of little to no pragmatism,
Ill-suited to the grinding and unromantic nature
Of cutting dead cows from stanchions and bringing order to barbed wire,
The mantle then falling to the youngest brother,
But he proved too easily enveloped in life’s minutiae,
And he departed with a locked garage door and idling engine,
The official version being terminal absentmindedness
While giving his antiquarian Buick a tune-up.)

I had come over to help out with the haying,
Its timing, even by small-farm standards,
Subject to Nature’s whims and caprices,
Process needing to be completed in narrow windows of time
When the tall grasses were just-so dry enough to cut,
Requiring marshaling the forces for attack
At a feverish pace before the next thunderstorm
Marched over the hills and ancient glacial moraines,
Leaving ill-timed efforts all for naught
(My contributions to the cause a hit-and-miss thing,
I being my father’s son after all.)
We’d finished up with some daylight to spare,
A thing to be celebrated, my uncle and I
Repairing to the porch for beer and small talk.
In the course of ruminations upon things great and small,
I’d mentioned how I’d changed my considerations
On the ostensibly unchanging hillsides,
How they were once foreboding, claustrophobic things,
Walls to be surmounted like some pine-topped Maginot Line,
But now comforting, benign things,
Cradling me gently, almost imperceptibly yet lovingly.
Uncle Virg took a pull from the bottle and slowly shook his head,
What those hills are, boy, is dirt, just a bunch of damn rock
Ground up by the big ice, and it would have been nice
If they’d made a better job of it,
Not that they gave a tinker’s damn about us then or now.
Son, I listen to you talk, and I despair of you.
Why, what would your father say?

He took another drink, then laughed softly.
Oh, hell, never mind. I know what your father would have said,
We drank more or less in silence after that,
The sun making various sherbert pastels of reds and oranges and purples,
Though I thought it perhaps for the best
Not to comment upon that particular phenomenon.


8 thoughts on “hills like not a goddamn thing

  1. My dad’s step-father (whom I never called grandpa), drank from Thursday evening through late Sunday afternoon. He used to say, “Billy, never set your drink down when you go take a piss. Bring it with you.” Advice you just don’t get much these days.
    As usual, your writing leaves me humbled.

  2. Your long parenthetical stanza is the best part of this character sketch of the land and a man.

    Having barbed wire that, too, needs order, and having met 5 of my husband’s French Canadian brothers ( who might have been related to Virgil ) I very much enjoyed the story and the imagery.

  3. the nearest thing to rocks here drive expensive cars, wear expensive shoes, and leave me with nothing resembling nostalgia or comfort. I prefer yours, sipping that cup of beer. ~

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