Erik Kennedy is the author of There's No Place Like the Internet in Springtime. He's co-editing a book of climate change poetry from New Zealand and the Pacific which will be published by Auckland University Press in 2021. His poems and criticism have recently appeared in The Moth, Poetry, Poetry Ireland Review, the TLS and Western Humanities Review. Originally from New Jersey, Erik now lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The Night Before
It was the night before the barn-raising and our son told us that he wasn’t going to be participating. He no longer believed, he told us. I asked him if he meant that he didn’t believe in barns, and I pointed impatiently to the wall and a print of a lovely old barn in DeKalb County. It wasn’t like that, he said. He no longer believed in community, in cooperation. And I said oh, wasn’t that convenient for him to give up on community just when the Flowerdews needed his help with their barn. And I asked if he didn’t remember when Mrs Flowerdew bought a subscription to Pigeon Fancy Magazine when he was fundraising for his school choir trip to Paraguay. And I asked if he thought that Mrs Flowerdew gave an everloving faff about pigeons. The woman is allergic to birds. Allergic. She did it to help him, and I said that I shouldn’t wonder that she’d do it again even if he’d become a thankless heartbreak to his dear mother and a disappointment to the town and a threat to a cohesive society. He said he was sorry but that’s just how it was, and we needed to respect his beliefs, and he was going outside to get some air and he hoped we’d understand some day. So I told his little sister to wait ten minutes then go upstairs and cut all his shoelaces with the kitchen scissors.
A lambent light it is that fills the pasture, but it’s too dark to read.
The wise farmer rises early to get the best broadband speed.
As shepherds watch their fleecy care, they see claggy-arsed, beady-eyed billows of wool.
A full house is a pair of Cheviots and three of a kind of Karakuls.
‘Pneumatic nipple suck-fest’ is a quaint term for the morning milking!
Gervase Markham writes of a cow that filled sixty buckets.
You can ride a tractor from, as the Italians say, the stable to the stars.
The tractor’s GPS is more powerful than the computer on the ship that, some day, will take men to Mars.
Fifty miles south of here it’s green-yellow. Fifty miles north it’s green.
Here, brown trout are scooped from the drying river in nets and trucked to the sea.
They wrap hay in plastic now, another processed food.
‘They’ are the farmers. Making hay is a pleasant interlude.
The last lightning-strike fire was put out by passing farmer Alan MacHugh.
The superstitious among us say that he threw the lightning himself.
I’ve asked, and my duty is not to protect the weak.
It is to make the weak strong. May they use that strength to make their own peace.
At night, from a car, sheep’s eyes look like the ghosts of snooker balls.
The dew falls in orbs and rises in a vaporous pyramid. That’s the water cycle, kid.
The half-sun on the evening hill is a great aunt’s hairy kiss.
Around the manger the animals sing ‘What Version of Pastoral Is This?’
Where the glow-worm creepeth in the night, no adder will go in the day.
The ways things are going now, it’s cheaper to throw the crops out than to give them away.
I misunderstood what the gig economy is.
It is not, in fact, driving people around in a gig,
a light, two-wheeled sprung cart
pulled by a single horse. My mistake!
And now I suspect that I don’t know
what ride-sharing is, either—
not if it means something other than
budging up in the carriage
so another lady or gentleman
in muslin and starch
can share the seat with you.
It makes so much sense now
that no one ever mentions horses
in relation to the gig economy or ride-sharing.
They’re big animals—can’t miss the neighing—
and if they were involved you’d think they’d come up.
But I do know that cars are part of the conversation,
and I think to myself, Now we’re getting somewhere.
Like the golden car of Helios
drawing the sun across the sky,
these are the vehicles of our lives,
bringing light and wisdom and clarity
to both the meek and the proud
so we may realise mutually our destiny
to be one people, bound together
imperfectly but happily in struggle and earthly love!
But no, I’ve got that wrong, too,
that is not what a car is,
and I suddenly grasp that I am three hundred years old,
my ideas are as fashionable
as falling down the stairs,
as relevant as the social contract or nostrums for scurvy,
and I apologise humbly for not bettering myself
in the last year, or in other years,
and for taking a place in the economy
that might be better used by an eager unit,
an operative of the now
who would privatise the past and mortgage the future
for the right to say ‘I am here today’
and who wouldn’t waste your time
with self-accusations like mine.
The Night Before the Barn-Raising: Minarets (Issue 10)
Georgics: Landfall (No. 230)
Annual Self-Evaluation: exclusive first publication by iamb