Ungulate 1920 1920 William Woolfitt

At sunset, I walk to the top of the knob, the zenith and center of the farm where my grandparents raised Guernsey and Hereford and Angus cattle. I take in the acres my grandparents cleared and fenced and mowed for hay, I take in the rust-roofed sheds and pale silo, husks and reeds, the diminishing pond in deep shadow, the lavish multiflora rose that seems to sprout from anything, even bare stone. I stretch my arms, steep in the dusk.

Once, I stood with my grandfather on the knob. He pointed his hand and named for me the adjacent counties. Maybe he said Texas Mountain, Laurel, Limestone, Polecat, the western edge of the Alleghenies. The Laurel Highlands bounded us, as if we had claimed the middle of a fancy bowl, scalloped and hazy blue, or perhaps gray-green.

Before lymphoma riddled, wasted, and thinned all that he was. Before it leeched the strength he gave to caring for his cows. Before he was housebound, sitting by the window in his soft recliner, counting juncos perched on the telephone wire.

Before the windfarm was built on Laurel, before sixty-one turbines were put up. Before cow burps were linked to greenhouse gas, global warming. Before the coyotes came.

Once, my grandmother cooked us a dinner of sirloin tips from their butchered steer, onions from their garden, and morels she had picked under a dying tulip tree.

Once, a sinkhole opened in the meadow where my grandparents’ fawn-colored and red and black cattle grazed. My grandfather told me some settler a hundred years back must have dug under it to get at the coal. I helped fill his pick-up with stones from stream-beds in the woods. Before we dropped the stones into the hole, he let me have a look.

On my hands and knees, face in a ring of earth, I peered in, and felt, or almost felt, a draft, a cool shivery gust that smelled like ashes and old leaves. I took in an impossible underground room, black and jagged, shiny and unlit.


(A version of this first appeared in Indiana Review.)

Header photograph © Katherine Adams.

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