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  • The Hornpipe and the Rake
  • Ben Miller (bio)

On no morning is the face of my partner of thirty years the same, if I make the effort to really look. To note how a raw music of present circ umstances—outside the skin, within—casts novel echoes of shade or illumination over nooks and arcs of what, at the quickest glance, appear to be known features. For instance, today, in September 2017: before Anna, the poet, scurried out the door to her part-time day job in the financial-aid office [End Page 132] of a local university, I perceived a silvery sheen of apples and their leafy stems, sailing from a wide expression of joy—an aftermath of our picking expedition yesterday to a farm-place outside Hard-wick, Minnesota. She had never done it before. I had never done it before. We could do it, we found out together.


We took turns using a borrowed ten-foot bamboo pole with half a light-bulb cage wired to one end. The cage, we were told by Anna’s uncle Wes, had once hung in a hog barn. Wires, crimped at truncated tips, functioned as our shared hand in a sky that kept falling on us. My fingers relished the silken feel of the bamboo—I had fished with poles this long in Wisconsin as a child in the 1970s. Vegan flies, the dung rejecters, buzzed around fallen fermenting fruit. Out of holes in a few snatched apples wiggled orange black-spotted ladybugs, but most of the fruits were perfect. We boxed and bagged gleaming apples, the ever-varying yellowish and green-tinged crimson blushes of skin stretched over hard sweet flesh. To a city home we imported this weighty bounty, raked off the boughs of a sixty-year-old tree, beside tall sun-dried rows of feed corn about ready to meet a combine.


It’s a day off from my latest day job, so I can compose that sentence in peace, without looking over my shoulder to see if the latest day-job boss—“Mean Jean,” the aquatic-center plebes call her to her face (to her perverse delight)—is watching. I can then rise and go downstairs, meandering over dark brown floorboards, trailed by the vague prospect of a next sentence to type and by Pilar, the long-haired calico stray we adopted last year, her extravagant Maine coon tail swishing like a broom.


For the first time, Anna and I each have a spacious office. We live in a 1916 house in Sioux Falls, South Dakota’s largest city, forty miles from the Minnesota border, and a four-hour flight from New York City, where most of our friends reside, and Anna’s parents too. Nicer offices were one of the things we talked about with greatest anticipation before we relocated, along with our yen to live cheaper and with less stress. Since being married in downtown Brooklyn in 1989, we had been negotiating imperfect compromises with each other, and a myriad of apartment layouts, to create adequate writing spots.


Anna’s office is on the first floor, off the dining room. I peek in but do not step in. So much came with us out here, organized, packed, yet in the mind spinning madly. The landing of it all without any shattering or splintering continues to dazzle: her Madonna figurine on a shelf, kerosene lamp and heirloom desk (spindly 1960s two-leaf table) with a view of the backyard smoke tree and the ganglia of summer’s dying tomato vines. My office upstairs is thicker with heaps of papers, music stand, blue vase full of red pencils, barn-wood desk purchased for a song back when vacant lots on Sixth Avenue above Twenty-third Street were packed with antique dealers on weekends. A ragged [End Page 133] screen-window hole, created by an off-course creature, I leave unrepaired. From which direction did the winged velocity originate? This is damage I want to keep analyzing. I picture a careening sparrow drunk on mulberries. I picture too the unavoidable injury done to any story when telling it—the flighty essence of truth...


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pp. 132-140
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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