(Host) Vermont State Poet Ellen Bryant Voigt has witnessed the gradual loss of family farms, both in her adopted state of Vermont and in her native Virginia. The following poem is a meditation on that loss.
Eight years. Last week
he would have turned off asphalt at the gate,
crossed the cattleguard, straddled the ruts in the road,
forded broomstraw toward the stand of pines, flushing a dove,
and spent his birthday at the weedy pond.
Muddy, scummed, filling with fallen branches
and grasses that will thicken into marsh–
from the highway you wouldn’t know it’s there,
this postcard of the Pleistocene. At century’s end
what used to be done with the hands is done with machines,
freeing another brain:
This is the progress he had labored for,
trading the mule for a horse, the horse for a tractor,
finally trading frontage off the farm.
Even in his lifetime
he could hear, from his own porch,
suburban families in their yards.
Can unexpected death be seen as willed?
He’d cultivated everything he had.
He’d seen the hillside prosper.
He believed in an actual heaven.
There are two uncompromised sites left on his land:
half-acre of polished stones we put him in,
and the hole he dug himself,
a run-off pond, shallow, subversive,
where frogs feed on the minnows, snakes on the frogs.
Ellen Bryant Voigt is the state poet of Vermont. The poem appeared in her book, “Two Trees,” published by W.W. Norton.