The Farmer on Strike

The farmer used to bring you a bunch of grapes every day,
but now he stays indoors, and they say all of the animals are dead.

It wasn’t always grapes. Sometimes he’d been growing strawberries,
and he knew you liked jam so he’d make his own. You never told him,
but once or twice you crept round there, watched him standing at the stove
through the fog of your breath on the glass.

The innkeeper tells you she went over the other day, anxious,
and she could see him sleeping through the tiny lattice windows.
She knew he was breathing because his chest kept rising and falling
beneath the covers. He was wearing his hat, she tells you,
even against the pillow, and although she slammed a hand into the pane a few times
he didn’t even flinch. The horse and the dog were just wandering around outside.
The crops were brown and dry. She hopes the cat ran away.

Everyone in town is starting to hate the farmer – his idleness, his apathy,
the stench of neglect. A neighbour dragged the sheep and the cows
and the chickens and the ducks out of their barns when the smell hit over summer,
cremated them on the beach in the starless night. He says the farmer
didn’t seem bothered. Took the news, wordless and placid, and went back to bed.

This neighbour loved the farmer’s father, and sometimes he talks about him at the bar.
Drinks one too many, grows saggy and tearful, says things you shouldn’t hear.
His old man would never forgive us, he says. He was honest, hardworking, alive.
This boy isn’t even a piece of him. Just a shadow. A stain left behind.

And you want to think little of the farmer, too, but there are things you miss.
The way those grapes would burst in your mouth. How he would stand in silence,
brown-eyed and half-smiling, just listening to you speak. The dark earth beneath
his fingernails. When you lie in bed at night, you picture yourself in those empty barns,
shuffling around with his poor, starving ghosts. Sometimes you imagine that you’re
wasting away with them, lying down limp in the stale hay, but other times
you hear the door open, and you’re ready to forgive anything, just
to feel his rough hands brush against yours with the gifts. Those jars,
those fruits, those flowers. His silence, your words, this place.

Yes, if the farmer stepped into this spring, the earth would be ready again.
The New Year’s festival is coming, and by the time he steps outside the frost
will have melted. Nothing happened, you’ll tell him, while he was away.