blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1





For years she’d only known his name was Morton,
a shadow Frank would talk to by the barn.
She’d seen his silhouette in four positions:
his back bent under the stalled mower’s hood,
or prone on dirt beneath the pick-up truck
or elbow jabbed backward on chainsaw rope—
always three strokes and then the low roar rose
to the house.
                       She knew his lanky lounge at rest,
leaning against the barn, the setting sun
behind, the dark straight stream of tobacco.

Most days he’d be out far beyond her sight
with bales and grain to feed his cows, or post-
hole diggers, rolled barbed wire, whatever he
would need on land they’d lent him in exchange
for work around their place. So they could stay.


On days he chored for them—he cut the grass
on the green and yellow Deere she used to drive
or mowed the banks that slanted to the creek,
always Frank’s job—she could just make him out.
Though he was still a shadow from her window,
a long back curved above the wheel. a grey
sweatshirt. blue overalls, black baseball cap.

She finally saw his face, or what of it
she could, beneath the country cowboy hat
when he came up to till her garden plot.

In March she’d brought the supper in to Frank
and asked the question that she knew would take
another thing away:
                                 Could Morton help
to till and tend her garden once Spring came?
It seemed an age before he said, “Of course—”
and then the old half-smile she’d missed for months—
“How else can summer mean your succotash?”


The first time they asked Morton in the house
it was so he could move their bed downstairs.
He went back up to help Frank down, then spoke
as she was tucking in the sheet: “Coyotes,”
was all he said as if Frank had asked him
a question.


                    Then he started coming more,
for lifting things, unsticking things that stuck,
but often he just took a porch-chair seat
and chewed tobacco, spitting out brown arcs
over the railing. “How’s he doin’ now?”
he’d ask when he heard her come out the door.
“‘Bout the same,” she’d say to Morton’s back.

She still saw him around the barn as shadow,
Or pulling weeds, black-hatted. But when face
to face, each time she thought he looked unlike
the time before. He’d hardly talk or glance
at her, but Morton bent an ear to where
Frank lay.


                 In June she picked a rose each day,
a Mister Lincoln she and Frank had ordered.
The catalog had called it ‘heaven’s scent’
and so it filled his room, she thought. But now
there hardly was a space to put a vase.

Outside among the roses she had heard
the sounds from up the ridge. She knew, though she
had never heard such mournful calls as these.
“We’ve got coyotes,” she told Frank, “I heard them.”
He made to sniff the rose awhile, then whispered
“Remember Morton told us? Long ago?”


One day in August, just in from the garden
with corn to puree with some butter beans,
she heard a muffled cry from down the hall
and dropped the basket at the kitchen door.
Frank’s voice was rasping out a cry for help:
Help me, Morton!
                            She heard him as she ran.
And there was the caretaker, bending over,
as if Frank’s chest and mouth were engines,
as if his hands could start up what had stopped.
But Morton shook his head and passed her by.


Into the night, into long afternoons
she made a wail that coyotes answered.
But in the Winter, nothing answered silence.
In Spring the quiet rabbits splurged on weeds.


She didn’t realize until much later
when Morton left that room, he’d gone for good.
Then she recalled his pale eyes meeting hers,
that once, as he walked out. But she was wrought
and might have been mistaken. Anyway,
that time was long ago, back on the farm.
If she saw Morton now, she wouldn’t know him. 

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