An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections

Three AM and the Stars Were Out

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 my job, 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 to 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.
Though sometimes it all works out.
I turn a calf's head and then
like a safe's combination
the womb unlocks, calf slides free,
or this night when stubborn life
got back on its feet, round eyes
clear and hungry, my IV
stuck in its neck, and I take
my time packing up, ask for
a second cup of coffee,
so I can linger awhile
in the barn mouth watching stars
awake in their wide pasture.

 

Published in Quadrant Magazine (October 2004).
Text may vary slightly from the video reading.

Published: 6 December 2007
© 2007 Ron Rash and Southern Spaces