Spring 2011, Volume 10

Poetry by Nick Ripatrazone

Work: Sugaring

Kneel before the tree, pull the knife neck-level, right to left, back to right.   Bark split: set the spile.  Point it down.  Sap drubs into the buckets (slow as the moon or a sick fox).  Once filled the buckets are carried two at a time (Daniel’s shoulders look like a yoke; his teeth look like a horse).   Sap boiled thick, massaged with hands (so many hands, palms film-full, sticky even after soap).  Cooled to a near-dust.  Rubbed into fish, mixed with water (and afterward Daniel sits at the table, hat askew, heels of his hands stained like tanned leather—he is smiling, though he doesn’t show his teeth.  They are nearly gone, but certainly not from anything sweet).

Work: Logging

Billings bunkhouse: socks, boots, overalls, vests, flannels, and longjohns draped from strings.  View from front window: field, banked tight.  View from back window: horseshoe turn on Fairmont Bridge.  More than one man has died on that route.  No woman has yet died there.  Half the boarders came from the northern farms, harvesters.  Men who rode the binder at midnight, lanterns leading the way through wheat.  They’d run a bar out of the basement of a shoe store but it was raided by the sheriff, who dumped the kegs in a gully, beige froth pooling in the mud.  More than one man sucked the dirty beer until it settled into the ground.  Now they had moved on to the forest, dehorning trees, crotched trunks, double-bitted axes stuck in logs.  They sometimes thought of the sheave-bound wheat, threshed the next morning.  Or, rather, they thought of the dirty sweetness.  The memory of a tongue.

Work: Farming

June. White-pink flowers open, cranberries picked from the bog with a scoop (months before the water, browned, hid vines reddened from cold). Cucumbers are grown in the greenhouse, hung from rafters. Farmer fallen asleep at the kitchen table, coughing back snores. Breaths pause. Sounds like he was dead. On the stove a pot overflows. Crisp gemelli flow across linoleum, carried by the boiled water, pool around his boots. Water in the house, water outside: storm continues through the night. Ends with a smack of humidity. Then come the bugs. Burned pine sawdust to kill the mosquitoes. Broomy, feather-winged carcasses line the cement floor. His cousin, years ago, had developed an ammoniac spray that killed the bugs on contact but left the sprayer with a swollen throat. That was no good. No more bites, but no more breath, either.

Work: Guiding

Couples most often; rarely does a single person seek a controlled route.  Conrad, an orienteer, greets at the gate and steals the most athletic visitors.  The other guides wait behind, though they should have learned that lesson a thousand times.  Most people want to take the horses rather than go on foot (beginners are too scared to be scared, content to be up higher than normal).  It is a soft cross over the creek.  The meadows are marshy and the connecting roads steeped with gravel.  There is no easiest path.  Men, more than woman, ask to stop at the bathroom near the lookout.  They have a hell of a time getting off the horse, and once on the ground the grass is new and their knees wide.  They are loud in the bathroom: too much iced tea at lunch, and the women stay on their horse, at first talking with the guide, and then starting out into the trees.  Wondering.

Work: Butchering

Everyone hopes for wind.  North-west, south-east, any direction.  On still days the smell is enough to turn even the tightest stomach.  Blood in casks, hot under thick roofs.  Fat taken to Hopewell.  The rest of the pig is taken elsewhere.  The planked-floors are soft from runoff; a dragged boot peels back splinter.  The moisture that doesn’t seep into the wood drains to Penn’s Creek, which curls but never seems to cool (men in waders claim to feel the heat through the rubber).  Those who want the slaughterhouse gone claim fish taken from the current (particularly carp) have a rusty taste.  The owner, a first-generation Pole, said carp wasn’t supposed to taste good.  Certainly not as good as pig.



BIO: Nick Ripatrazone is the author of Oblations (Gold Wake Press 2011), a collection of prose poems. His recent work has appeared in Esquire, The Kenyon Review, West Branch, The Mississippi Review and Beloit Fiction Journal.