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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 8, Number 2, June 2014

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Jeff Streeby
Morley, Michigan, USA


Hornick, Iowa

It’s dark, so it must be pretty late. You are driving and in the soft light cast by the instrument panel, I can see your hands on the wheel. The radio is turned down low. WNAX is playing the Mills Brothers—Shine, little glow worm, glimmer, glimmer—and before I fall asleep again, I notice you are marking time by tapping one thumb against the Brodie knob.

Early frost—
here is only this fresh adventure
of recollection.

This is when the war is over and the vets are home trying to pick up where they left off. Little Hornick, Iowa, is vanishing behind us—the bowling alley and café and the bank and the implement dealer and the lumberyard, the one-room brick library (you had read all its books), the grain elevator. And everything else as well—the train station, the old blacksmith shop where you first worked for wages, the remains of the dairy, the school built by the WPA, VFW post 492, the general store where my great grandmother shops for groceries every day—all these dependable way marks have begun their short march into oblivion. The little Victorian cottage where she lives, behind it an empty carriage house gradually tipping out of square, her flower beds and her garden, the huge elm tree out front shading everything—all that, too.

Winter moon—
we must refit
all our clumsy architecture of love.

It would certainly be a Sunday, and by the time she came from the church just across the street, you would have already mowed her lawn. My brother and I most likely had been hard at work capturing box elder bugs and drowning them in the tin can of kerosene she kept on the dining room window sill. Afterwards, there would have been fried chicken and applesauce cake (from the newspaper-lined cake pan). Mother would have helped with the dishes—a pump in the kitchen sink and hot water from the reservoir in the big cob stove.

New Year’s Eve—
my instruments of self-indulgence
perfectly in tune.

Around us, everything familiar was wearing away. In our country of loess hills, the Missouri a quarter mile wide under the bluffs, cottonwoods thick along the stream banks, a few aging draft horses were at work beside new Farmall A’s. All summer long draglines cleared the ditches, graders smoothed the roads, crews replaced planks on the 19th century bridges. Drive-ins on Friday nights, Saturday morning fishing at Brown’s Lake, the regular summer trip to Okiboji. In the fall there was bird hunting in the shelter belts and the cornfields. There were those dances at Shore Acres, the Fireman’s Ball, church bells on Sunday mornings.

Winter grows long,
and all these shades arrive and depart
at my bidding.

That I take the time now and then to re-examine the intricate formulas of character I watched unfold around me long ago can’t be unusual. We must all have to weigh the things we have carried with us out of our innocence, note their scale and composition, their value as evidence in our redemption or they all would be useless to us as we try to trace the evolution of our effect in the world.

Winter’s end—
my old machinery of resignation
breaking down.

The 141 from the edge of town to the turn-off is pretty much the same. You would still recognize it except where the county finally straightened the curve that killed Ralph Karell. Hornick is nearly gone. But for me the frame and context of it is intact. I can walk to the spot where your dog is buried, where the storm cellar steps descended, where the door of the blacksmith shop opened onto the street. I can trace the aisles of the hardware store in the vacant lot where it used to stand. I can go as far as the bottom step of the church and know where the pulpit is and the choir and how the pews are arranged in a semi-circle facing the big stained glass window.

First sun—
There is always more than enough of everything
yet to come.

A darkness. A drive home. A catchy song on the radio. Faces. Places. I hope I will remember such things when at last the colder proposition embedded in the world’s geology comes home to me: that we are bound to serve the principles of physics, a set of irreducible sequences wherein, for all their variety of rhythms, nothing may overstep its natural measure—darkness implied in every flame, flame in every ember.

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