I remember the story my mother-in-law told me
about the farm adjacent to her own.
A granary and house in disrepair, a polebarn
crumbling, reduced to a woodrot heap
built too close to what became Route 28.
From Bonnie’s front porch, you can still see
the sunken roof decaying, the rafters now
exposed, stubble fields surrounding lopsided stables
punctuating the space between horizons.
A woman lived there alone on twenty acres.
She had a son, I think, but something happened.
Cancer or a wreck—I don’t remember.
Once, close to the time when the woman died,
Bonnie, who was paid to clean her house,
lugged over her bucket of supplies, pushed open
the door, and watched the woman fall
out of her chair and kneel at Bonnie’s feet,
asking her if she was the angel of death.
Next morning, Bonnie woke to the sound of singing.
Following the voice into the fields,
she found a set of footprints in the snow
and saw the woman muttering by the woodshed,
her eyes closed, hair tangled in rosethorns,
lying in her nightgown on the ice.
Unable to move when Bonnie tried to lift her,
the woman spat in Bonnie’s face, still singing
what sounded like a garbled version of
“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”
Bonnie waited with her until the ambulance
drove up the berm to carry her away.
That was almost thirty years ago.
Bonnie’s own farm now is in disrepair.
When Grace and I drive up to spend the night,
we find her gazing out the picture window,
pointing at some recent aspect of decay.
The increased angle of the tower silo
shedding its planks and boards along the field,
rust crusting the dome, the staves splitting,
the ruined tractor she stacks with potted plants
and paints green every Spring to hide its age.
Since Bonnie bought a gun, a twenty-two
she keeps in the nightstand by her bed, loaded,
we’ve started stopping over twice a week,
saying we’d been to Tipton for the day
at Wal-Mart or United Methodist.
Chain-smoking her Montclair 100’s,
she says she has an angel watching over her
and slaps her black-lab’s belly with a hairbrush.
Her angel, Bob, the lab, is deaf and blind.
Hearing a noise one night, Bonnie cocked her pistol
and stumbled over him, discharged a slug
into the player piano, destroying the action.
Next morning, when she didn’t answer her phone,
I drove up to check on her. I knocked and knocked.
Because she’d nailed a quilt above the door
against the drafts, I had to tear it down,
scattering drywall on the floor where I found her.
As I helped her up, she told me not to fuss,
she preferred the rug some nights for her slipped disk,
and licked her fingers to fix her sticky hair.