An old man
I got bread, how I did there’s no telling,
from above it appeared to come down,
and of untrimmed pine built a crude dwelling
that lay close to Savonaån.
In spring I ate bark with those dearest,
and to drink I drew sap from the trees,
in the scrub fashioned traps for game nearest
and whatever God gave let it please.
And my only son ended up farming,
took a wife to himself just like me,
like a devil he ruled, bent on harming,
and his farmhands he beat constantly.
And to me, who was old and stiff-boned now,
not one comforting word was at hand,
though I’d fashioned the house that he owned now,
though I’d cleared every inch of his land
And his wife was as sharp as a sickle
and his wife was as ice so cold,
and his wife railed and cursed and was fickle,
was the bane of my life now I’m old.
Outside stood a cart one day ready,
with a plank-seat for two and some hay,
and in front stood our ancient horse Steady,
and his mane it was ashen-grey.
I might as well ask, I decided,
what journey’s been planned for today,
but to ask that felt rather misguided –
it’s better I nothing say,
I kept silent , asked nothing, just cowered
and ate up the gruel I’d begun,
and there came for at least an hour
not a word from my only son.
It was quiet with no words hard and cruel,
it was unlike most days in a row,
and my son, when he’d finished his gruel
remarked simply, dad, time to go!
Is it Sunday? Shall I go out riding?
Or is there some special day nigh?
But it’s best not to ask for a chiding –
one gets told – gets told by and by.
To be left here hardly surprises
I’m old, have no strength to say more,
I don’t care how the sun sets and rises
and if all the days pass as before.
But life at the poorhouse is clearer
and this firm consolation’s just fine:
the deep earth is here so much nearer,
and the meagre crop’s harvest is mine.
On my wood bunk I dream without sleeping,
its thinly spread straw is my coat –
like life, here the air’s slowly seeping,
like a nightmare night gags in my throat.
And though he was hard on his father,
I yearn for life here to be done,
to dig in the earth I’d far rather,
for my hard-hearted, only son.
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