Sunday, August 31, 2014

Hiking in Truro, Massachusetts

By Margaret Phillips
 
The Mayflower Saints may
have walked in this place
where I am walking
where I don’t know how to ask
the leaves or pines in the sandy ground
what happened here then
not study paragraph by paragraph but word
by word talk to someone who knew
those minutes in those days
yet here beside the spotted wintergreen
it just so happens I’m the only one
to hear my questions
I want to talk to the Wampanoag teacher
behind the black cherry bushes
to ask him
to tell about the stolen
corn the stolen seed corn stored
that year at Corn Hill
at what was to be known as
Corn Hill
as in the scene of the crime
where the seed corn was stolen from
it just so happens that I
have experience
fifteen hundred miles away
from this silent path — experience in Indiana with my grandfather’s
side business of selling seed corn
and with his small profit
buys his own seed
to grow corn to make silage
to feed his dairy cows
to keep his hundred and sixty acres
acres heavy with rocks that rise up
with the frost line each spring
to break the plow point
to freeze the hay rake gears in fall —
it just so happens that broken gear teeth
broken plow points are just the emergency
seed corn money can meet to feed
the hungry finances of a hundred and sixty acres
so it will not starve
it just so happens starving —
ask Bradford and his hungry men —
is only the stuff of time and place
In Indiana in my grandfather’s milk house
next to the cooling room is a smaller room
and behind the pasteurizer a windowsill
and on the windowsill a pasteboard box
and in the box large arrowheads
for deer
and smaller ones called
bird points and squirrel points
that rise up every spring in the clay
first cut turned over by the plow
my grandfather’s plow brings up an arrowhead
some young Potawattamee dropped
flint chipped and knapped long ago
in the nearby hamlet by his family’s lodge
if I could turn and bend agilely down
out of time out of place
I could catch the arrowhead he
dropped silently in the leaves could offer it back to him
and ask if he knew about the stolen corn
fifteen hundred miles away
it just so happens that the corn in Corn Hill
kept Bradford and his party
and the hungry enterprise alive
this boon needed to feed the babies
but stolen away from other babies
not in dire need but their children
shouldered out by the children
of the saved babies and
the Potawattamee boy who could not see
that his woods would give way to corn or clover
it just so happens eaten by cows not buffalo cows
but milk cows whose milk passes through
the pasteurizer in front of the door
to the windowed room with a pasteboard box
of arrow points in the windowsill if I could just stop
I could see my grandfather drop
his found arrowhead into his pocket I could take it
and reach out to hand it to the Wampanoag teacher
who speaks about disappearance
of seed corn an accompaniment to the just surviving
explorers to the sagging finances
of a small farm in Indiana or
on a path in Truro where
it just so happens lies
Corn Hill.

This was the 2014 winning poem selected by the Cape Cod Cultural Center.  

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