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Rural Scenes

From: Sewanee Review
Volume 121, Number 4, Fall 2013
pp. 524-526 | 10.1353/sew.2013.0114

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:


At the table, its yellow enamel gleaming
in the sun washing in from this tiny kitchen's window,
the woman shells fresh peas into a deep bowl,
blue as the sky framed in the upper pane.
She must be young: her swift fingers are smooth,
straight as her gaze out the window, her angular face
lineless, gold with reflected sun.

This is a chore she knows well;
the bowl in her lap fills steadily
as her ivory radio pours rivulets of Debussy
across the countertop, yellow-ochre flecked with blue.

On the stove, rattling on the black iron burner,
a teapot in the shape of a cat's head does its busy work
while the soup for the evening meal blends and melds
beside the milk warming in the azure creamer.
There is no cat; but this is where it would be,
here in the warmth, wrapped in fragrance and sun,
dust-motes drifting, visible in the angling rays,
while its glossy black ribcage rises and falls
with its easy breathing, its soundless sleep.

False Dawn, Nebraska

Before first light the chime of birdsong
tolls the moonfall, big and full in the west,
Venus red and fat in the east's false dawn:
cupped in the copse the call of oriole,
round and bell-like in the Maytime fringe of leaves,
falls like dew before the green breeze rises.

Field mice move among the newly sprung shafts,
part them silently in the comforting dark,
safe before the grizzled predatory cat appears,
close-set crusty eyes keen for motion,
paw set by paw, in half-pace, soundless.

In cool beds beside open windows
sleepers stir, restive, readying to rise,
birdsong sifting through the screens,
filling the odd spaces, dream-corners,
skylight still only false, morning yet undawned
while the day stalks, patient, inexorable,
scanning the parting stems of half-past dreams
for signs of motion, sighs of weakness.


The fresh snow discloses what dry nights conceal:
the criss-crossing paths of paw prints—
the rule-straight lines, the rabbits' threes-and-ones,
the small indentations that straddle the steady furrow
where the possum's tail parted the fluff,
the fine lines of sparrows' feet, jays' larger ones,
crows' larger still where they foraged at sunrise,
poked and pried up small things, lifeless, stiff,
from the snow that piled sometime past midnight.

Now in the morning I read the evidence,
heading for the barn to feed, to tip oats by the canful
into battered rubber pans turned inside-out
by the black mare who dips her waiting muzzle,
rimed with hoarfrost, nose dripping,
breath blown loud and grassy with the hay's last remnants
to encourage me, prod me to slice the twine,
let the full bales spring loose, their dust rising
above the hay that smells still of sweet and summer
even in this finger-numbing sunrise cold.

They work by night, these small creatures,
beneath the blank moon or the shedding clouds,
under the gaze of sharp-eyed owls that fly soundless
on square wings in the breathless dark
to pluck and pierce them, tear, devour the unlucky,
while the fortunate freeze in place, eyes wide,
small respirations making tiny clouds, whiskers twitching
as the sharp yellow hooks of owls' beaks,
the talons black as obsidian, do their bloody work
without malice or rancor but in generous thanksgiving
for gifts received, sustenance found, enough for now,
in winter's empty barn, its snow-filled hollows
pocked and scored by countless tiny feet.

Stephen C. Behrendt  

Stephen C. Behrendt professes English at the University of Nebraska. His most recent collection of poems is History published by Mid-List Press.

Copyright © 2013 Stephen C. Behrendt
Project MUSE® - View Citation
Stephen C. Behrendt. "Rural Scenes." Sewanee Review 121.4 (2013): 524-526. Project MUSE. Web. 18 Nov. 2013. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.
Behrendt, S. C.(2013). Rural Scenes. Sewanee Review 121(4), 524-526. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved November 18, 2013, from Project MUSE database.
Stephen C. Behrendt. "Rural Scenes." Sewanee Review 121, no. 4 (2013): 524-526. http://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed November 18, 2013).
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