Eric Schwerer



To be in any form, what is that?
The farmer's girl boiling cattails in a kettle

on the rise beyond the barn. Another rise, another barn
in the near distance. A consistent consistency

which is a thickness, not a difficulty,
in the geography in the distance.

As notebooks full with pages
there are these rises and barns, a series

of histories—families on rises with barns,
dull fall greens and browns—mirroring into a density.

The girl moves gingerly about the kettle, both
small words on a page that is the field her father owns.

What is a nearest neighbor? What is medicine?
The wine rising up from there, the stew,

the steam and the odor. Look in the kettle
at the acrid broth roiling against the cast metal.

It's cold now and evening, each day an increasing thinness
framed on both sides by dusk, dampening

down the mood, eating it shorter, forcing the steam
to turn thicker. When the fire began

the hay flamed into tooth straw like flux.
Now in the shoats' pen the water trough

reflects the moon—a dark flicker. Every fall
these chores become more difficult,

her fire and kettle (boil those cattails) increase
in tediousness. The girl's diminishing form

lacks any obvious utility
yet the remedy thickens.

The shape seen from beyond the rise beyond the barn
of the girl and the kettle in profile

appears to bond itself into a question, a scene
seeming to ask what wine, stew, or broth

becomes extracted by this process?
The top of the silo resembles a witch's hat.

From the farmhouse a light is lighting
a rectangle on the dying grass. A thousand

thous and ands from the insects, a tangle
of parenthesis and bracken, panting feet

trying to beat the darkness back
toward the thorny forest. The bothered mind

of the father hurrying through a scuffle of chores
in the barn—a shuffle of leather and metal

drifting out as she stirs the stew,
the broth, the wine inside the kettle,

making only odor, warm, nocturnal, and feline.
Everything not useful is divine.


The first line of this poem is Whitman's. I was struck by how incredibly contemporary it sounded when I stumbled upon it. I love the question. It seems too huge to answer.