:: FALL 2018 TRAVEL WRITING CONTEST FINALIST ::
Deerflies, Joe Pye weed, blacksnakes, silver dollars, block and tackle, pickle crocks, three-legged hounds, mulleins, fresh chew & Ohio.
In August, on the township roads,
the blacksnakes stretch themselves
across the rocks and hard clays
so you have to stop the car.
Then they coil themselves,
lift their slim, sleek heads,
and twitch their tails like rattlers.
If you grab them,
you will find how hot the world is
in the summer,
and your hands will smell like dead meat
for three days.
In the roadside ditches
where the weeds twist thick,
the minor lizards—skinks and swifts—
tour the sticks and tendrils
with quick eyes. Beetles glint
like jewelry on the undersides of leaves;
deerflies choir on mouse skulls,
green cutworms slash at thin stems
with their sharp and sidewise jaws.
On a smooth stick, invisible as air,
a mantis hacks a small wasp into splinters,
holds a flash of wing in claw.
Sober, high-noon seeing,
these sudden sightings from the car:
stumps, cold springs splashing on the rocks,
dead hawks in the mulleins
with the black and yellow beetles
big as nickels on their rotting wings.
Things to see, to make a lifetime of,
to carry home or drowse on,
to curl a dream around.
But daylight lasts a long time
in the summer: it is not yet time for sleeping.
And now, the old Ford hot from climbing,
the big woods break
along a saddleback of ridge,
sunlight shimmers on a gatepost,
and in the middle of a field
of thistles, Joe Pye weed and nettles
sits Mr. Hummel’s shack.
A thousand silver dollars
in the mortar of the mantel!
A cask of double eagles under floorboards!
And Mr. Hummel, confident, at ease,
sits smiling on the porch
as you pull in on the gravel.
When you unfold, sweating, from the car,
katydids whirr wildly off,
and a house wren rides the high scale
in the buckeye by the porch.
Moose Ridge, August,
Hummel’s apple wine!
Around here, men who have the time,
and men who make the time,
sit all day at Hummel’s,
let their extra money leak away
like rain down Wolf Pen Creek,
then heal their empty places
with Hummel’s homemade wine.
His moon-eyed hound that rocks
and hobbles on its three good legs
won’t drink it,
but that means nothing to a man.
Mr. Hummel pours a saucer
on the porch steps,
but all it draws is flies.
“By God,” he says, looking hard at us,
“That dog is dumber than a pounded nail.
The best days that I’ve lived,
I’ve lived them wild and drunk.”
The wine is deep in pickle crocks,
as gold as cider,
as cold as good well water.
You drink it from a dipper.
“Seems all I’d see
was pretty women in them days
when I was drinking hard stuff
on the river,” Hummel says.
“Saw one, God’s truth,
in Beaver Town one time
that had a head of red hair
like a bonfire. And she was warm
in other spots.”
We pass the dipper—
me, Jim Winland, Ealy Fishbeck,
and old Hummel, already shuffling cards.
“We’ll play some euchre, boys,
then get another drink,
then we’ll do the block and tackle.”
“Block and tackle?” someone says.
“Yessir,” Hummel says.
“You drink enough of that,
you walk a block
and tackle anything in sight.”
and the sparrows
roosting in the eaves.
The trump invisible, the point card
gone with oak leaves in the breeze.
Jim Winland leans against a porch post,
Ealy Fishbeck wads a fresh chew,
loose as hay, fatter than a walnut,
and me and Mr. Hummel
pick the wood ticks off his hound.
“I’ve never seen no sense in ticks,
I’ll tell you,”
Mr. Hummel says.
“Near everything I know
says ticks don’t make
a bit of common sense.
Now even your tapeworm’s
good for laughs, at least—
that cure that has a fellow
set his chin against the table
and then yawn,
and how that tapeworm
sashays out his mouth
to find that dish of milk
he set there—
they’ve beat me.”
Ealy Fishbeck snorts
“Hummel, life ain’t all romance.”
And then the moon hangs
like a ghost fire
in the buckeye,
bats spin from the chimney
and a big moth floats slow
above the white hood of the car.
Everything you’ve seen
by day has bought the black suit
and gone home.
Rustlings in the weeds.
Then, a flare of light
from down the porch:
Mr. Hummel stokes his applewood pipe,
and somehow, as you sit there,
smoke makes all the shapes
of creekbends, blacksnakes,
of thrushy thickets
that the birdsong washes from
in rivers you can see,
and it is the best sight,
the sweet wine climbing
to your eyes, and it is sleep, and all
the secret unspoiled places of your sleep
you want to float to,
down the rivers deep inside you,
from this upland, weed-shored shack,
late at night,
Richard Hague spent a lifetime teaching writing and literature and half a lifetime gardening in Cincinnati, Ohio. He passed many summers living in rural Monroe County, where “Moose Ridge Apple Wine” is set. He continues to write, teach and operate a small urban organic farm, Erie Gardens. His latest books are Studied Days: Poems Early & Late in Appalachia (Dos Madres Press, 2017) and a collection of memoirs and essays, Earnest Occupations: Teaching, Writing, Gardening & Other Local Work (Bottom Dog Press, 2018). He is artist-in-residence at Thomas More University in northern Kentucky. This work originally appeared in Vol. 6 No. 3 (Spring 1981) of OhioJournal. Along with two other poems, it was given The Ohio State University President’s Award in Poetry that year.
Lead image: Alexandru Boicu