The Hermit Goes Up Attic
Up attic, Lucas Harrison, God rest his frugal bones, once kept a tidy account by knifecut of some long-gone harvest. The wood was new. The pitch ran down to blunt the year: 1811, the score: 10, he carved into the center rafter to represent his loves, beatings, losses, hours, or maybe the butternuts that taxed his back and starved the red squirrels higher up each scabbed tree. 1812 ran better. If it was bushels he risked, he would have set his sons to rake them ankle deep for wintering over, for wrinkling off their husks while downstairs he lulled his jo to sleep. By 1816, whatever the crop goes sour. Three tallies cut by the knife are all in a powder of dead flies and wood dust pale as flour. Death, if it came then, has since gone dry and small. But the hermit makes this up. Nothing is known under this rooftree keel veed in with chestnut ribs. Up attic he always hears the ghosts of Lucas Harrison's great trees complain chafing against their mortised pegs, a woman in childbirth pitching from side to side until the wet head crowns between her legs again, and again she will bear her man astride and out of the brawl of sons he will drive like oxen tight at the block and tackle, whipped to the trace, come up these burly masts, these crossties broken from their growing and buttoned into place. Whatever it was is now a litter of shells. Even at noon the attic vault is dim. The hermit carves his own name in the sill that someone after will take stock of him.
From Bringing Together by Maxine Kumin. Copyright © 2003 by Maxine Kumin. Used by permission of W. W. Norton and Company, Inc. All rights reserved.