Maxine Kumin


The Hermit Goes Up Attic


Up attic, Lucas Harrison, God rest
his frugal bones, once kept a tidy account
by knifecut of some long-gone harvest.
The wood was new. The pitch ran down to blunt
the year: 1811, the score: 10, he carved
into the center rafter to represent
his loves, beatings, losses, hours, or maybe
the butternuts that taxed his back and starved
the red squirrels higher up each scabbed tree.
1812 ran better. If it was bushels he risked,
he would have set his sons to rake them ankle deep
for wintering over, for wrinkling off their husks
while downstairs he lulled his jo to sleep.

By 1816, whatever the crop goes sour.
Three tallies cut by the knife are all
in a powder of dead flies and wood dust pale as flour.
Death, if it came then, has since gone dry and small.

But the hermit makes this up. Nothing is known
under this rooftree keel veed in with chestnut
ribs. Up attic he always hears the ghosts
of Lucas Harrison's great trees complain
chafing against their mortised pegs,
a woman in childbirth pitching from side to side
until the wet head crowns between her legs
again, and again she will bear her man astride
and out of the brawl of sons he will drive like oxen
tight at the block and tackle, whipped to the trace,
come up these burly masts, these crossties broken
from their growing and buttoned into place.

Whatever it was is now a litter of shells.
Even at noon the attic vault is dim.
The hermit carves his own name in the sill
that someone after will take stock of him.

Submitted: Monday, January 20, 2003

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