- Grinding Pestle: East Fork Paint Creek, Jefferson Farm, and: Stream of Consciousness
for Geoff and Sharon Mavis
Here in Center Valley, it’s 5:30. Mockingbird working hard and early out of the holly this late-May dawn, cardinals kicking the background vocals. Even we are still country enough to hear a rooster raise the eastern sun, who himself is roused this time of year by the grind and whistle, beyond South Mountain, of the Emmaus train, these most welcome acoustic stylings coloring and informing the light that pressed so dull, chill, and colorless on us this relentless winter.
By the window, the bell-shaped grinding pestle suggests its own, more earthen music, scored by plowshares—your tractor, and others, mule or horse drawn—abraded or chipped on one side near the top, so the thumb rests more comfortably, grips more surely. Or is that part of my imagination working overtime again, as, when you placed it in my hand, I pictured some Shawnee woman, or a displaced Lenape fled beyond the bludgeonings of Gnadenhutten, bent over a bowl, grinding corn, instead of the middle-late Archaic ancestor it must have been, I realized, after you told me how old it was? Granite, I guess, or gneiss—recalling grainy photos from freshman geology, back when we first met more than forty years ago—used, I learn from the Internet, [End Page 332] for crushing acorns, hickory nuts, black walnuts fallen from trees on the till plains of a southwest Ohio that couldn’t in its wildest postglacial dreams envision Columbus.
You said, “Studying the liberal arts made me a better farmer.” The Cantos say: Sun up; worksundown; to restdig well and drink of the waterdig field; eat of the grain and my father: “Feel of the heft of it,” in his best Pennsylvania Dutch, sighting down the haft of a wand of white ash, lathe-worked and trademarked for commerce between it and stitched horsehide, like he did during downtime in occupied Japan, when he wasn’t reading Emerson to make himself a better soldier. As a kid I’d see him ignore the pick-off attempt, break for second, and slide a baseline gritty with pebbles and glacial drift. Always against the grain. Always his skin, scabbed and bloody.
Don’t they teach us, those who worked the wilderness before us, that it’s much behovely to shape everything, even stone, as amenably as possible to our own touch? Hefting the pestle, I picture the two of you again in sunset, arms around each other, as you were then, in the easy, conformable posture of long affection, a distant bell ringing evening down on soy, corn, the each-spring-greening rye. [End Page 333]
Stream of Consciousness
Under the iron shoulder of Ashland Mountain, in the shadow of the Methodist church’s leaden bell, we find a place, park, and start on foot down Main, the three of us retracing the route the miners took, dragging home late-winter days like this, the gray leeching out of the low-slung clouds, seeping up from The Foot to The Flicker, the small patch town subsumed in it, the sidewalk spalling, then giving way to gray concrete archipelagoes in a sea of weeds, the old man with us, who’s misplaced his keys, cap, and the reason we’ve brought him, now probing the shafts of memory, the lamps of his eyes clear, darting: here the attorney’s office, here the grocery where his mother would send him for loose black tea, dingy curtains opening and quickly closing as we pass, here the house where Mary Kehoe lived— “Fuckin’ hot,” he says to us, or no one, recalling a night behind the baseball field, her Connemara skin slick with sweat— the vacant, granite-faced bank, even the ATM out of order, Shalamanda’s, Tony O’Shea’s, his finger stabbing the sodden air, saying, “Here” and “Here,” and listening to the murmur of pigeons before a left on Silver and a final right, stopping by the row home where his red-haired mother and hopeful father raised him, a sister, and two brothers, showing us...