The land was bleak, what folks called ‘hardscrabble’, because that’s what it meant to farm it. And farm it they did, to varying degrees of success. The man remembered growing up on a mean paste made from dried maize, the only thing of nutritional value that his father had been able to raise from the ashy soil. Somehow, they had survived.

The sky overhead sealed the sound in and the light out, like a heavy woolen blanket made up of clouds with empty threats of rain. It was the same sky that he had stared up into as a boy, and as he stood there on the edge of the dead property it filled him with an overwhelming ennui that made him want to sit him right down in the dirt. Instead, he bowed his head and sighed, briefly considered offering up a prayer, then raised his eyes once more and strode across the dusty earth to stand on the threshold of the old farmhouse.

It is important to recognize here that the term ‘farmhouse’ describes the function the structure once served. To say that it had fallen into disrepair would be generous. The place was a ruin. A few of the main support timbers still stood, but only as splinter-topped teeth. Most of the plank siding had fallen into jumbled piles, and from his vantage point at the entrance he could look down through the ragged remains of the floor into the root cellar. It had once been a place of dark and musty terrors, but time had rendered it into just another hole in the ground, a rough-hewn bunker exposed by the erosion that had benighted the place.

He dared not step onto the rotten planks that remained, for a fall so far from medical help would be disastrous. Instead, he let his memory fill in the gaps that time had created, both mentally and physically. An old cast-iron wood stove stood in one corner, its pipe stolen long ago. The little black pot-bellied device had never once burned a stick of wood, as far as he could recollect, and instead had converted dung into heat. Recalling that brought back the gritty taste of burned shit, how it had seemed to permeate the flesh that clothed his bones and sit on the back of his young tongue like a brand of poverty. He spat, reflexively, and found that his mouth had gone dry and all that he could muster was cartoonish sputtering.

“Seen enough?” the carter called from the road. He looked back over his shoulder at the gleaming carriage that had taken him there and wondered at how alien it appeared. He had never seen its like here before, and it was probable that such would never again visit that place. He ran a rough palm over his face and nodded to himself.

“Yes,” he said, and retraced his steps back to that vehicle which would take him far from the sad place of his birth. He struggled to recall why he had even come, and he felt as though the visit had knocked something loosed from his soul, a fragment of himself to drift down and find a home there in the unforgiving ground, and perhaps, in time, to grow.

2015.01.09 – 2023.08.10

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