Landscape with Tractor
How would it be if you took yourself off
to a house set well back from a dirt road,
with, say, three acres of grass bounded
by road, driveway, and vegetable garden?
Spring and summer you would mow the field,
not down to lawn, but with a bushhog,
every six weeks or so, just often enough
to give grass a chance, and keep weeds down.
And one day—call it August, hot, a storm
recently past, things green and growing a bit,
and you're mowing, with half your mind
on something you’d rather be doing, or did once.
Three rounds, and then on the straight
alongside the road, maybe three swaths in
from where you are now, you glimpse it. People
will toss all kinds of crap from their cars.
It's a clothing-store dummy, for God's sake.
Another two rounds, and you'll have to stop,
contend with it, at least pull it off to one side.
You keep going. Two rounds more, then down
off the tractor, and Christ! Not a dummy, a corpse.
The field tilts, whirls, then steadies as you run.
Telephone. Sirens. Two local doctors use pitchforks
to turn the body, some four days dead, and ripening.
And the cause of death no mystery: two bullet holes
in the breast of a well-dressed black woman
in perhaps her mid-thirties. They wrap her,
take her away. You take the rest of the day off.
Next day, you go back to the field, having
to mow over the damp dent in the tall grass
where bluebottle flies are still swirling,
but the bushhog disperses them, and all traces.
Weeks pass. You hear at the post office
that no one has come forward to say who she was.
Brought out from the city, they guess, and dumped
like a bag of beer cans. She was someone,
and now is no one, buried or burned
or dissected; but gone. And I ask you
again, how would it be? To go on with your life,
putting gas in the tractor, keeping down thistles,
and seeing, each time you pass that spot,
the form in the grass, the bright yellow skirt,
black shoes, the thing not quite like a face
whose gaze blasted past you at nothing
when the doctors heaved her over? To wonder,
from now on, what dope deal, betrayal,
or innocent refusal, brought her here,
and to know she will stay in that field till you die?
The opening poem to Taylor’s marvelous collection, The Flying Change, establishes the energy of mood and tone for the pieces that follow. Taylor’s mastery of imagery is in his ability to inject life and motion so forcefully into each landscape. This is a poem that, since my first reading it years ago, refuses to leave me. I can’t escape that field. What I connect with? – the form in the grass.
The writing engenders in me such sympathy for character – in this case, two characters. Loss is always most potent when the cause is unknown. When the why and how elude us. When loss remains an almost sacred ritual.