A Boy’s Work
in Real Audio
(April 1946, Sherman County, Oregon)
They sent the boy to build a fire beneath
the steel water trough after a week
of freezing fog had hung a hoary wreath
on every bud and leaf along the creek.
The men were busy at the barn with new
cold-weakened calves. The boy would have to go.
He loaded stove-wood chunks he’d split in two
until the shouldered rucksack bent him low.
In fifty strides the barn was lost — or taken.
He stood confused with cloud, more alone
than in the broad summer fields, forsaken
by or perhaps forsaking the life he’d known.
He staggered along the frozen creek a mile.
He knew the way, but in that cloud it seemed
all unfamiliar; he backtracked twice, and while
he searched, unsure, it was as if he’d dreamed
his life and now awakened cold and lost.
But then the looming rock crib marked his place
to turn, made strange beneath a coat of frost,
and then the pasture trail a wispy trace.
With no more landmarks to help him find his way
he often knelt as if in prayer to see
if he had kept the trail, until from gray
the trough emerged, a solid certainty.
He found the water solid too, so made
his feeble fire, fed the growing flame,
saw how heat and light rose up and played
against the steel. And then the horses came.
From formless white in single file appeared
the thirsty horses taking living form,
condensed from cloud, more solid as they neared.
He stroked them as they drank and felt them warm
with living heat that he had helped to save.
Their breath plumed up in clouds, more fog unfurled
into the void, and as they drank they gave
a solid, living purpose to his world.