Poem that Wanted to Be a Brueghel

Snowy road with red 
soil ruts where a wagon struggled. 
Bare trees in middle distance
man with stick and pack
trudging uphill, off balance.
Is he running? And then I’m

back at the podium, all the suits
in the room looking at me like 
where did you go?

Something was cold and afraid. 
Someone went looking. 

It must’ve been amazing
for the great painters when it drifted
into their eyes—the moment
they could freeze the action
before the terrible realization 
that would echo through generations.

Field work in a dry summer.
Blue sky and blaze yellow.
Sweat on the brow of my father
just a boy now, seventeen, lean
and earnest, tight with exertion
pounding fence posts 
with a man I never met, his father. 

Dad swings the sledge down
just as the blank man, glancing back
toward the distant barn, places his hand 
gently on top of the post
to say that’s enough. That’s good, son.

And the hammer is a breezy blur
stopped magically in air 
to never disfigure, sever 
flesh or family tree but still I 
dab paint over my father’s eyes
so he won’t have to see.

Copyright © 2021 by William Stobb. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 26, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.