Drafting for the Dark Farm: “The Tanner’s Wife”

Since I hadn’t written anything since Tuesday, I thought today might be a good idea to get a draft in. An idea had been percolating in my head for a week or so, but it just didn’t come out on page like I was wanting it to. As I’ve talked about before, a lot of my poems have a “dark farm” theme. One such poem was published in the Spring 2010 issue of The Los Angeles Review:

To Love a Lamb

The sheep bleat outside the window
while the ram dances in the kitchen.
Rejected by its mother, it slept
on a pile of blankets in our room,
drank from a bottle in my hands.
Tomas says it has fallen in love with me;
it runs into his knees whenever he gets too close.
The children that are not mine, but his,
worry it will butt them. They lock it
inside the spare bedroom on their weekends.
I stroke the wood of the door, wanting
to hear a baby bawling. Instead I listen, lonely,
while it bleats on the other side.

Tomas tells a story of a ram
that knocked its owner over in the fields
and when he tried to stand,
knocked him down again.
His son found him come daylight,
nearly dead, bleeding from the ears.

When Tomas comes home, grimy
with sweat and dust from the lumberyard,
I peel his shirt off him like an onion’s skin,
smell his musk mingle with the beef in the oven.
Is another woman running her hands
along his back to feel the strength
of his muscles, hardened by labor?
We should take the ram to Ben’s.
I shudder, mutely agree.
Dressing later, I discover his dirt
has darkened my torso.
I push the ram outside that night
and cry next to Tomas in bed, listening
as it bleats and runs itself into the back gate.

In the kitchen the next morning,
I hold one of the new hen’s eggs,
palming the warmth from the hen’s hock.
Tomas and another farmhand
rope the ram to take it to Ben’s–
Ben with his dull calf eyes,
his filthy, bloody apron.
The ram will not last feel the love
of my motherly touch.

My hands cut celery, prune weeds, wait.
Tomas returns with the ram
wrapped in tissue in a small, cardboard box:
four pink chops, each shaped
like half of a heart, leathery and heavy.
I feel their weight, miss the feel
of the ram’s snout at my breasts.

For dinner, we eat them seasoned with rosemary.
His children laugh with their mouths full,
remark how wonderful the ram tastes,
tell their father that he won “the battle.”
Upstairs, I put a robe over my nightgown,
walk out to the pasture where the sheep
rip the grass out by the roots,
and sleep in small groups. Some
patrol the paddock for predators.
I smell their wool,
see a ewe lick the ear of a lamb.

Tomas finds me later crying.
What’s wrong? He asks.
I follow him into the kitchen,
drag out the cardboard box
from the trash, and stare
at the blood smeared on its insides.

 

Earlier this week, a guy told me a story about how his roommate tanned the pelt of a fox. One way of tanning requires preserving the brain tissue because you use it later to oil the pelt. The story perfectly mixed the farm aspect with the grotesque, but once I wrote out that part of the narrative, I needed something more: a relationship, a connection, something that would make the poem more than just about tanning. I’m still stuck there. I’m so struck by the story, by needing to keep the skull of the animal in the fridge while you’re preparing the pelt, but I need that emotion! Poems don’t work good as tutorials.

I’ll let it keep simmering and see what it happens. This may be one of those poems that doesn’t get written so quickly. It may need time.

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