Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Poems: "Jim Paar's Cabin" - by Philip J. Burgess


With every spring, high water comes to do its work
And deepen the bend in the river.
Every spring, muddy water swells and shaves away
another acre or so from Jim Paar's alfalfa field,
and a few more cottonwood trees
from a windbreak he planted back in the thirties.

As each season comes he spends less time in his field.
As each season goes Jim Paar gathers less hay.
Sometimes he has to borrow a team of heavy work horses
to drag his one-room cabin on its cottonwood skids,
retreating from the spring hunger of the river.
Every season, the old man spends more time watching water.


Winter slows and stops the river and now Jim Paar
sleeps late most mornings beneath a pile of dirty quilts.
He walks out on frozen water in the early afternoon
to chop ice and check his lines for winter catfish.
He walks down frozen dirt roads to sit silently by
a neighbor's stove, and spit tobacco juice in a coal bucket.
Later he reads Zane Grey westerns by kerosene lamp and weeps
winter tears as ice settles and cracks out on the river.


Jim Paar squats on a chopping block, spits Copenhagen
and watches the remnants of his alfalfa field where they tremble on
the edge of the crumbling river bank.
A storm cloud follows the river down the valley
and rain falls to strike sliding water.
Tomorrow he'll fetch the neighbor's black horses
to hitch up to the house one more time
and drag it deep into the woods, far from the river.


My brother and I break and enter his cabin where
it leans against an elm tree older than the century, leans away from the Model A Ford with crumbling tires
and a younger elm tree growing out of its trunk.
The two kid outlaws open a trap door in the cabin floor
and find two jars of tomatoes with rusty lids
and a plastic-wrapped photograph of the cabin
being pulled by a team of scruffy black horses.

 *     *     *     *     *

Philip J. Burgess was raised on an isolated ranch in eastern Montana. He now lives and works in Missoula. "Jim Paar's Cabin" was published in his 2001 collection, Badlands Child.

1 comment:

  1. Guys like Jim Paar were lost and found in Eastern Montana by Philip. It's an act of courage and compassion at work here.