Academic journal article The Hudson Review

Three A.M. and the Stars Were Out

Academic journal article The Hudson Review

Three A.M. and the Stars Were Out

Article excerpt

When the phone rings way too late

for good news, just another

farmer wanting me to lose

half a night's sleep and drive some

backcountry wash-out for miles,

fix what he's botched, on such nights

I'm like an old, drowsy god

tired of answering prayers,

so let it ring a while, hope

they might hang up, though of course

they don't, don't because they know

the younger vets shuck off these

dark expeditions to me

thinking it's myjob, not theirs,

because I've done it so long

I'm used to such nights, because

old as I am I'll still do

what they refuse to, and soon

I'm driving out of Marshall

headed north, most often toward

Shelton Laurel, toward some barn

where a calf that's been bad-bred

to save stud fees is trying

to be born, or a cow laid

out in a barn stall, dying

of milk fever, easily cured

if a man hadn't wagered

against his own dismal luck,

waited too late, hoping to

save my fee for a salt lick,

roll of barbed wire, and it's not

all his own fault, poor too long

turns the smartest man stupid,

makes him see nothing beyond

a short term gain, which is why

I know more likely than not

I'll be arriving too late,

what's to be done best done with

rifle or shotgun, so make

driving the good part, turn off

my radio, let the dark

close around until I know

a kind of loneliness that

doesn't feel sad as I pass

the homes of folks I don't know,

may never know, but wonder

what they are dreaming, what life

they wake to-thinking such things,

or sometimes just watching for

what stays unseen except on

country roads after midnight,

the copperheads soaking up

what heat the blacktop still holds,

foxes and bobcats, one time

in the forties a panther,

yellow eyes bright as truck beams,

black-tipped tail swishing before

leaping away through the trees,

back into its extinction,

all this thinking and watching

keeping my mind off what waits

on up the road, worst of all

the calves I have to pull one

piece at a time, birthing death. …

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