My Antonia —Lise Goett
Ignoring the advice of the Agricultural Survey,
my grandfather, 4 foot 6 in stocking feet,
planted a hundred acres in black walnut.
For years to come
one could see his hired man, Tiny, setting the boles,
tamping each one by hand, and my grandfather following behind him,
a gnome standing in the wake of a giant,
the trees as twisted by drought as he was.
This was his legacy:
a thousand cigar boxes covered with gypsies
and a stunted grove of black walnut.
My grandmother was the descendant of gypsies,
her dowry a whistle whittled from the tooth of a boar,
shepherd's ivory. At night, her heart-shaped planchette
spoke of arrowheads still locked in the ground
under fields of winter wheat rippling like stretched tarpaulins.
What had she brought into the house,
what kind of omen?
In the red velour book she read from,
there's a story of a Russian boy
schooled in the discipline of the harness,
of his wedding, glasses catching light like sheaths of clear bone.
Snow whorls like wheat in a granary
as the guests strike out for home,
the keening of wolves heard in the distance.
In the story, I am like Pavel.
My sledge can't outrun the fleetest of wolves.
The snow glisters under our tracks,
the pack moving like eels.
I pry the bride's fingers from steel,
unman the groom with my whip,
watch them disappear as in the wake of a ship
until none of the party is left.
I will never forget the way a tired horse founders,
a bride's blood against snow,
dawn's carillons tolling a Friday of Sorrows.
Tonight, everything ready to be harvested
climbs a black seam of ridge,
the curtains moving cauls,
the smell of cottonwood roots choking our pipes,
seeking water. My grandmother's face
turns white like a wolf's,
the muzzle's white grizzle.
There is no mistaking the devourer underneath.
This was her legacy—
all this before I perfected the art of moving away.
There is nothing I would not do
to make the troika lighter.