The only image of the old farmhouse
hung for years, small on the living room wall–
a hand-colored photograph framed in wood.
This profile view of weathered, clapboard home
breathed ruin. Orange tongues traced the roofline,
shot from every window, tumbled through walls
already gone, roared out open-mouth porch
overhung by attic lip. Smoke billowed,
beams borne away as gray ash. All lost: home
forever standing, forever burning.
[The farmhouse burned down 75 years ago today (19 October 1940)]
A cache of 1940 photographs
taken of my county,
my range, township, section,
and see the farm from above.
Woods have slowly encroached
on the fields since then.
A pasture ran from the barn
down to the creek in the grove,
crops and trees
the former bovine demesne.
on a dot in the yard
to the shock
of a boy waving,
at the airplane
I look down,
for a moment forget
my absence then
his absence now.
Octagonal glass doorknob.
Metal faceplate. Skeleton keyhole.
I reach out and turn the handle,
open wide upon
a kitchen table with six leaves
laden with meats, steaming vegetables, fresh-baked bread.
Around it, faces young, lean, vital.
Men in overalls, their voices rise together
in a mingled, boisterous roar.
They hold their wooden-handled knives and forks
in earnest, go quick at their food.
The women, hair pulled back,
wear plain dresses, aprons.
They leave the men to their noise.
Soon the men rise, file out the screen door,
across the porch to the field,
to horses stamping, a steam engine,
its huge belt running to the thresher,
bales tossed high onto wagons.
In the kitchen, the women
gather the dishes, the leftovers.
All is put away as they talk, quietly,
with pauses between sentences.
The youngest stops.
Sensing someone watching,
she turns toward the doorway where I stand.
Her brown eyes look through me,
search deep into the front parlor.
Puzzled, she turns away,
turns to mist
as do they all.
I grew up on a Southern Illinois farm which has been in the family since about 1850. Much of who I am as a person and as a writer comes from this deep sense of place, yet change finds us no matter where we are.
The farm transforms
as soil turned over.
Only broad outlines remain the same:
border between wheat and wood,
rises and washes,
the far tree line when facing southwest
which breaks, revealing the high fields
beyond Horse Creek.