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Poetry: "The Farmer" by Ellen Bryant Voigt

This poem has been tumbling around in the back of my mind for several years now.


This year however, I am particularly tired. Moving the farm, farming the farm, and growing the farm all in one season has taken a toll on me. This isn't an easy job. Sure, it has its perks and I am not going to discount them, but bootstrapping a farm into existence with not previous training has been hard. And I'm tired.


As I think about my tiredness and I think about what we've pushed through and I re-evaluate why we do it, this poem comes to mind. Read it. Maybe later I'll circle back and unpack it some and tell you why it rings in my ears. I'd love to hear your thoughts as well.


The Farmer

In the still-blistering late afternoon,

like currying a horse the rake circled the meadow, the cut grass ridging behind it. This summer, if the weather held, he’d risk a second harvest after years of reinvesting, leaving fallow. These fields were why he farmed— he walked the fenceline like a man in love. The animals were merely what he needed:

cattle and pigs; chickens for awhile; a drayhorse, saddlehorses he was paid to pasture— an endless stupid round of animals, one of them always hungry, sick, lost, calving or farrowing, or waiting slaughter.

When the field began dissolving in the dusk, he carried feed down to the knoll, its clump of pines, gate, trough, lick, chute and two gray hives; leaned into the Jersey’s side as the galvanized bucket filled with milk; released the cow and turned to the bees. He’d taken honey before without protection. This time, they could smell something in his sweat—fatigue? impatience, although he was stubborn, patient man? Suddenly, like flame, they were swarming over him.

He rolled in the dirt, manure and stiff hoof-prints, started back up the path, rolled in the fresh hay— refused to run, which would have pumped the venom through him faster—passed the oaks at the yard’s edge, rolled in the yard, reached the kitchen, and when he tore off his clothes crushed bees dropped from him like scabs.

For a week he lay in the darkened bedroom. The doctor stopped by twice a day— the hundred stings “enough to kill an ox, enough to kill a younger man.” What saved him were the years of smaller doses— like minor disappointments, instructive poison, something he could use.




(Below I've attached a picture of a painting by one of my favorite painters Eric Sloane. It's called "Farm Outbuildings".)




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