An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections
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  • Three AM and the Stars Were Out

    When the phone rings way too late
    for good news, just another
    farmer wanting me to lose
    half a night's sleep and drive some
    backcountry wash-out for miles,
    fix what he's botched, on such nights
    I'm like an old, drowsy god
    tired of answering prayers,
    so let it ring a while, hope
    they might hang up, though of course
    they don't, don't because they know
    the younger vets shuck off these
    dark expeditions to me,
    thinking it's my job, not theirs,
    because I've done it so long
    I'm used to such nights, because
    old as I am I'll still do
    what they refuse to, and soon
    I'm driving out of Marshall
    headed north, most often toward
    Shelton Laurel, toward some barn
    where a calf that's been bad-bred
    to save stud fees is trying
    to be born, or a cow laid
    out in a barn stall, dying
    of milk fever, easily cured
    if a man hadn't wagered
    against his own dismal luck,
    waited too late, hoping to
    save my fee for a salt lick,
    roll of barbed wire, and it's not
    all his own fault, poor too long
    turns the smartest man to stupid,
    makes him see nothing beyond
    a short term gain, which is why
    I know more likely than not
    I'll be arriving too late,
    what's to be done best done with
    rifle or shotgun, so make
    driving the good part, turn off
    my radio, let the dark
    close around until I know
    a kind of loneliness that
    doesn't feel sad as I pass
    the homes of folks I don't know,
    may never know, but wonder
    what they are dreaming, what life
    they wake to — thinking such things,
    or sometimes just watching for
    what stays unseen except on
    country roads after midnight,
    the copperheads soaking up
    what heat the blacktop still holds,
    foxes and bobcats, one time
    in the forties a panther,
    yellow eyes bright as truck beams,
    black-tipped tail swishing before
    leaping away through the trees,
    back into its extinction,
    all this thinking and watching
    keeping my mind off what waits
    on up the road, worst of all
    the calves I have to pull one
    piece at a time, birthing death.
    Though sometimes it all works out.
    I turn a calf's head and then
    like a safe's combination
    the womb unlocks, calf slides free,
    or this night when stubborn life
    got back on its feet, round eyes
    clear and hungry, my IV
    stuck in its neck, and I take
    my time packing up, ask for
    a second cup of coffee,
    so I can linger awhile
    in the barn mouth watching stars
    awake in their wide pasture.


    Published in Quadrant Magazine (October 2004).
    Text may vary slightly from the video reading.

    Published: 6 December 2007
    © 2007 Ron Rash and Southern Spaces