Silas Peacham sits astride his aging Minneapolis Moline,
according himself a minute’s basking in the autumn sun.
The engine rumbles at low idle and he lets October’s tender warmth soak into him.
Taken unawares, but hardly by surprise,
he feels the season’s poignance well up inside him like a swollen pumpkin.
He has never spoken to anyone of this seasonal emotion,
not even to his wife of 42 years.
He’s a when-in-doubt-don’t hardscrabble Yankee.
Reticence is his creed
and reticence does not admit of poignance or any other sentiment.
In fact, poignance is worse than sentiment, it is sentimental.
He is embarrassed by this emotion,
which he regards as intolerably extravagant,
especially for him, a Yankee paragon of thrift.
Though the feeling is long since familiar,
he still marvels at his susceptibility to it.
He believes in fact that it is God speaking to him — or no, God conversing with him.
But one never reveals one’s conversations with God,
and anyway he is discountenanced, mortified.
Determined to displace this piercing, touching emotion,
he summons his favorite Proverb to recover himself:
“He who hath a merry heart hath a continual feast.”
His eyes resume their customary flintiness.
Mr. Peacham has reached the proverbial age of three score and ten.
Old sneakthief Death drops hints to him regularly.
He takes pride in being stoic and he is wont to level with himself.
He will soon be snatched and dropped smartly into a grave
in the Meeting House cemetery,
where as sexton he has furrowed the earth
for the countless corpses that have gone to ground before.
The furrows of his fields and the furrow of his brow are one.
His furrowing of his wife bore nought.
Autumn was upon them all along.
Was it his milk or her eggs that went sour?
Nature’s carnal bribes were of no avail.
Down the decades, their barrenness had haunted them
and all around the farm they were mocked
by the fertility, profusion, ripeness and manic copulation
of their animals.
It was as if they had been conjoined in dead sex.
Gradually they had become solitudes.
It didn’t bear thinking on; regret was a fool’s errand.
He bestirs himself, lets out the tractor’s clutch,
motors back to the barn, parks the machine inside for the night
and makes his way to the henhouse
to check for a fox or an overlooked egg.
Ambling along the dusty track,
he is distracted again by the beauty of the season.
Hot coppers, yellows and oranges enflame the foliage,
igniting the branches in fiery exclamations to the towering azure sky.
The crevices beneath the maples and sumacs are stippled in violet.
The first hints of autumn afterlight dapple the scattered barns in pinks and plums.
The face of one barn is turned away from the sun;
it is charcoaled and mute, but for the yellow splotch of a single pane.
To the north stands a barn with shoulders high and erect,
its walls ablaze with sun-scorched amber.
To the east is a third barn, blackened by shadows.
It glowers on a solitary apple tree adorned in spun gold.
Over there, on another hill, is a deserted barn with an unlikely white roof, like snow.
Unkempt brush piles sit beside the building
and a cord of wood lies crumpled nearby.
A stash of rain-weathered lumber, two-by-fours, has gone to gray.
Suddenly he recognizes that the surface of the farm pond is stained glass,
darkly illumined in blue, cerise, burgundy and purple.
As he lingers for a time, lost to himself,
the sun’s flame starts to gutter out across the hollows and valleys.
Darkness laps at the edges of the meadows.
Lights wink on in the windows of the plain-spoken white clapboard houses.
Here and there in the spreading dusk and ground fog,
imperceptible shorelines seem to emerge.
They appear to scintillate at times, or glow a little,
as if fireflies still roved well past their season.
He’s not sure whether the gauzy horizontals are real or ineffable.
It is as if representation and abstraction have for an instant become one,
touched with cosmic dust or some ethereal silt.
Part Two of “Peacham’s Autumn” by Paul Mann in next edition.