by Tony Smith
This was written by Tony Smith while he was living next door to me in a one-room picker’s cabin in the Eastern Washington Cascades near Winthrop. It describes how 5-year old Tony first came to realize that winter can be long and hard. Yacolt is in SE Washington, and Bonneville is southeast of there. Silver Glance is a remote wilderness area a long way further east and south, in Utah. Tony passed away in about 2010. He was a fire lookout and philosopher. Perhaps reminding him of the Long Sky Cold, here is a picture of the view outside Tony’s window.
Over Silver Glance and the Long Sky Cold
by Tony Smith
Grampa said they’d better kill that hog
And take the heifer to Yacolt.
My grandmother said, “hum”, but she was looking south –
waiting for the light from Bonneville.
I’d been a help they said, maybe so,
I’d gathered all the eggs without breaking any –
Watched the mornings leave quite early in July –
Fished with string; and sneaking past the Johnson’s bull,
Patrolled the border of the woods with bow and arrow.
The hazel grove had long been overgrown with grapes
And the luncheons served to Cat and me hidden there
Were chattering affairs suffused with dappled pastel light.
The guests were always equal to the crumbs and rinds,
For then the vines and brush were busy towns; but now,
As October’s copper haze obscured my view of summer,
The ventures of spring were winding down. Cat blinked
When tired berries fell on the grass – out past the silo
The brown fields sighed under the hayricks, and coming
Upon yet another bend, the walking river stopped.
Grandpa said he’d get me a BB gun for Christmas
If Margaret didn’t care; then he squinted at Silver Glance,
Muttering that he’d left an axe down there.
I asked if it was stuck in the side of the mountain –
He grinned and spit a gob of snoose at a gang of ants –
“I don’t know, maybe so” he shrugged, then looking up as
Some ravens talked, shrugged again and walked into the barn.
I examined my bow and arrow – so this is when doubts arise –
In the nervous month, when mysterious congregations of birds,
Wheeling specks high above the farm gathered to discuss –
Soon decide, and moving off like black stars of singular intent,
Disappear eastward and silent over Silver Glance.
Three times the sun had dwindled in October
And I supposed the other two; five times sure then, that
Beyond the burnished sky and foreshortened foothill ridges
An implacable emerald dimension was streaming off
Some dazzling sheet of ice; and that after Halloween
The blinding crystal air would allow but brief forays
Into an arctic of unearthly space and long sky cold.
The old house would provide the shelter of confinement –
But it would be in a different land than summer –
For the flickering lamps would not dispel the ancient caves
Beckoning from the corners of its rooms; and short indeed,
Would be the warmth kindled in dark mornings
Between black primal nights passing like slow drum beats.
The hog would be ham, the heifer cozy in Yacolt.
Perhaps Sears had sold some small boys ordnance.
But despite such farmstead feats, uncertain fears would linger still
And my grandmother, edging back the curtain and looking south,
Would say, “hum”; and be waiting for the light from Bonneville.
[Memories of 1938 (I think)
Written in August, 1993]