a literary review
Frost Goes Down the Well
“I kept farm … less as a farmer than as a fugitive from the world that seemed to me to ‘disallow’ me… I
went away to save myself and fix myself before I measured myself against all creation.”
— Robert Frost, 1915
Below ten below for days on the New Hampshire hill.
The few leftover hens silently going rigid in the coops.
This evening the bucket clatters at the bottom of the well.
It could wait until day, but foul luck has turned to a point of pride.
So, wooled-up, he walks back to the barn
in the old snow, in old boot holes,
and takes in hand the lantern and longbar.
Uncovered, the well’s mouth is a negative
of the moon just risen.
The bar goes down first, clanks against the wall
and stands leaning on the lid of ice.
Every man descends by his own means, he thinks.
In this case, the old bucket cord is no help,
so he squirms in, braced by back and feet.
Inching down, the lantern squatting useless
in the snow above. He does this all by feel:
perched just above the ice, gripping the bar high,
he begins with two-handed stabs from overhead,
back pressed hard against the stone,
chisel point coming down between his legs
splayed out against the wall for purchase,
trying to break through just at the center.
Ice chips spatter and ricochet off his legs and face,
freezing with sweat, everything aching, convincing him
that he’s getting no more than nowhere.
In the process of every folly
there is a moment in the mind’s council
when Prudence turns to Foolish and says; “Your turn”.
Cursing his cramping shoulders, dead hens,
frozen dams on the roof of the porous house,
the rotten hay in the barn, he plants his feet down,
and the ice is hard and smooth, holding
like a black stone floor right under his boots,
each drive downward now as if to pierce
the skin of his doubts, ice lacing with spray.
Then, as if to answer a question,
underneath gives way and in he goes,
not quite under but all, and for measure,
the bar and plates of ice slicing his chin.
Pac coat, sweater, coveralls, all soaking into him,
and there he stands for a moment: a failure teabag,
burdened and beginning to steep.
He chokes down panic in the slush and water,
To ascend will require divestment.
he strips off clothes down to his union suit
and begins the climb, leaving the bar behind.
Spread like a star from stone to stone,
pressing outward, raising one limb at a time,
he adheres and rises, fear consuming,
for the moment, the cold.
The moon has moved above the well,
and he is illumined, red-skinned, dripping;
unsure if he reaches for escape or entrance.
Charley Harper, Outside Corporate Headquarters, 1948
“…we see Charley’s very practical nature crossing from the private fine-art focus to the commercial, with
adeptness and pragmatism.” – Ford Times
Place him in the minutes
before his meeting on the twelfth floor.
The air curves through the identical trees
planted in boxes on the plaza.
A cardinal escapes them.
In the glass hallways above,
PR and Ad convene,
suits and features aligned for proposition.
Around a table, they would say to him:
What if we could picture each species like
our products: the result of a protractor
and slide rule? Can we reduce creation
to fashionable portions of shape and color?
This is to be the jet age of impending perfection.
We want to be at the front of this design.
We want you to reflect our modernity
in brochure and report, logo and image.
Create convenience with us, Mr. Harper.
Frame it in perfect primary angles.
Scribe the fauna with properties of new
simplicity. Make us see the nuclear
in a scrolled shell. Each species a device
for charm. Smooth for us the living
clutter into unmarked surface. What relief
to see the animate matched in the colors
of our vehicles, pressed into flawless planes.
You can make nature money.
You can make animal geometry.
We will make each other comfortable.
We will entertain your terms.
Again on the sidewalk,
deal done, he feels the sun.
He hears the common birds,
and notes a few insects passing
in the plangent air. His mind sees all
the smallest creatures installed
in the placebos of green space around him,
and, standing, he wonders if, no, why
he has discarded perspective.
In the Garden of Discarded Confederates
Dusk is the best time to enter
as the light retreats from the faces.
They shy into the rampant weeds
and become an abstract
composed of fragments:
a torso, a horsehead,
a raised arm with sabre.
Kiltered, skewed, pieces of casting
lean on each other, in the intimacy
of shared internment.
Not a collection, museum, or warehouse,
just a junkyard, decomposing slowly
in final exile, behind a steel fence,
corrugated, rusting, and flagrantly tagged.
Inside they hide among cobwebs,
camouflaged by the droppings of birds,
bound by tightening stalks and vines
of fleabane, sumac, ailanthus
and the bittersweet nightshade.
Unnameable in this state
no plaque or plinth to letter
any myths, each mannequin
dismembered by his fall,
the broken limbs preserve notice
that they had been mostly made thin,
of brittle matter, and were nothing
more than hollow.
Mark Luebbers lives in Greenfield Massachusetts. His poems have been included in recent issues of Apple Valley Review, Blue Line, The Wayfarer Magazine, Wilderness House Review, and The American Journal of Poetry. In 2018 his collaborative poems with Ben Goluboff appeared in They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing, published by Black Lawrence Press. Mark also received 2018 Pushcart Prize nominations for poems which appeared in The Hopper and Eastern Iowa Review. His collection Flat Light is forthcoming from Urban Farmhouse Press.