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 a while; a drayhorse,
saddle horses 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 a 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.