Seventy-four years does not make a man, yet
Time can take him away, mortal flesh reduced
To weathered bone. Upon this Maine hillside,
I bear witness to what cannot be cast asunder,
Lifetime of accomplishments, those of my
Father, Thurman, whose heart and soul he
Lovingly gave to this farm, rolling hills and
Pastureland, for today we committed his body
To rocky soil, life given to heavenly rewards.
Here I sit with him, lifting my eyes upon these
Hills, buried in plain-wood coffin, as he desired,
As his wife, and my brother, who died of flu
Too many years to recollect. When grave-digging,
First shovelfuls hold biting pain, work-shined
Blade, turning earth again, wiping tears away,
Trenching a perimeter. Methodical to the end,
I reflect on seven decades of silvered-haired
Strength lost to ravages of disease and old age.
As pickup trucks approached, tool-wielding neigh-
Bors, their friends, joined in, digging a proper
Grave, their way of paying final respects through
Honest work, callused hands, strong backs, men,
And, yes, women, who love this land, knowing in
Broad daylight that ultimately it will prevail, years
Of cold winters, stars, snow, and wind, labored
Earth, faith tested, promises made until the body
Can endure no more, cessation of heart and breath.
His worn blue jacket hangs quietly now, blessed
Memories sequestered by time. Just a few years ago,
We were both strong enough to share workloads, up
Early, working late, taking time to give a true account,
Dense spruce scrubland, rambling brook, and natural
Rock-strewn clearing, redeeming light that consented
To farming, tree felling, stone fence building, tilling
Land, his visions fulfilled, building and expanding
Holladay’s Spruce Brook Farm.
Ironically, more we accomplished, the more
Complex our work became, straight spruce logs
Enough to build our first cabin, a flat site with
Good drainage, then a windbreak, a well, hand-
Dug deep and rock-lined, trickle of running water,
Deep pool, clear, crisp-tasting, gift of rugged
Hillsides, blessed sun-warmed slopes, loving
Land, everlasting, ambitions of family blood
And human perseverance.
We hand-cut and packed firewood, handsaws
And axes, hard-work warming us twice, once in
Cutting and in burning, bright-hot fires against
Stone hearth, meals cooked, light vanquishing
Dark, evening flames, glowing embers coalescing
Us into family, another acre cleared, cattle
Tended, cow-paths bending upward towards
Verdant summer grasslands, noble mountain
Brow, melodic peal of distant cowbells.
Upon this hillside in declining evening light,
I take time to celebrate my father’s life and his
Accomplishments, to realize my place, farming
Generations, to follow his steady footsteps in
Straight-tilled rows, to pour my heart and soul
Into this land, to survey these rolling fields, care
For each calf, harvests made, to strive to be the
Man my father was, hard expectations, embracing
His arduous journey, stolid Maine farmer.
Touched by hardworking Maine farmers and their farms,
This is my first poem from my August visit to Maine.
I began writing it flying home to Virginia.