A Selection from

Once in Vermont

by Bob Arnold

Gnomon Press, 1999


I get up with
The birds who
Get up with me

I don’t walk this
Early morning, frost
On the mowing, but you do —
And when you return
I’m sitting by the
Cookstove warm as you bend
To shiver my neck a kiss —
Show me what I missed

I’m the one who stacked
This stove wood ten cords
Deep under the roof of a
Broad woodshed, and sawed
Old pine boards across
To make a dutch door for
Its entry, and now I enjoy
How daylight squints into this
Burrow where round logs are
Pulled down to split each day

If you like you can find me
Talking to myself busting apart
Ash sticks with a favorite
Hatchet, its head weight just
Right, filling a kitchen basket —

Nothing like a simple tool that works

And when slipping the clear ribs
Of a whole snakeskin out of
Soft curled bark of yellow birch —
I remember that tree cut down
But this visitor I missed

the stars

or stars
over the


The old man is a something else
Son of a bitch — no other way to
Think of it, even though it isn’t
Exactly kind, but that’s the way it is.
He’d bitch at you, he’d bitch at me,
Give him a topic — weather, taxes,
School budget, road maintenance, local
Politics — the first person in to see
His son at the town garage, the last person.
You knew what would be said as soon as
You left, you almost wanted it to
Begin while you were still there.
Give him time, he’s heading that way.
Has helped his son at work on truck
Engines for the last twenty years and
Is now past seventy, wool capped,
Glasses, blunt forehead, all shoulders
In a sweatshirt no matter when I see
Him, even picking strawberries up on
One of the sunny hills across town, but
He is almost friendly when doing that.
A gorgeous garden, peas are always up
By early May, and he has a way and
Tenderness to work in asparagus and
Bushels of raspberries on the small
Vegetable bed he plows by the side
Of the road. Plants his bush peas
Roadside to shed dust that rises
From an overpopulated back road;
How those neighbors fly. He has bitched
And stamped so many years about the
New hoard that his language and treatment
On the subject is abbreviated to
A shake of his head — he knows you
Understand even though you weren’t
Born here — the key to what it means
To be native in this old man’s eyes,
Idiotic as it might seem since he isn’t
Anymore native than the next white old
Gent still farming in town following
His own father’s haul, but it does
Generate a certain policy of who-is-who
In the town. “How long you lived here?”
Is like having the last word.

The old man and his son have lived here,
Right here, no more than a few feet either
Way of birth-right, in this house and not
Including the porch where I stand trading
A few words with the old man — he tacked
That on ten years ago. We have known
One another twenty years and no matter
Each time I see him we go into the same
Routine of weather, seasonal news, how
Far along we both are in getting up next
Winter’s wood supply. He can be counted
On to have his firewood (cut from bought logs)
Bucked and split and stacked in a half
Dozen rows thirty-two feet long fresh and
Sturdy and incredibly pleasing to the eye.
He does this all by himself with a wood splitter
And grubby chain saw, while maul and wedge
Are always close by for what won’t split.
His son burns oil in a castle of a house
And can’t make any sense of this wood
Infatuation but he will tell you it gives
Dad something to do, maybe keep him out
Of the garage away from the customers
Who walk away bewildered by the old man’s
Statements. How in the world can one man
Be so outright angry and do such complete
Work in his garden and firewood detail?
I can picture him right now moving between
The stacks of firewood adjusting the ends
Of each row not to spill apart, raking
Bark and chips, liking every bit of the
Feeling he must have knowing it is early
May, far from winter, and here he is
Ready for anything. A son of a bitch.


There was one stone
I set into the hut
That my neighbor Everett
Belden, a farmer, always
Remarked on liking specifically
When word of stone walls
Or such came up, “Now
There’s that white rock
You did that I like,” he’d
Always say and I can’t
Remember if I placed it
In special or it just
Came up in the pile that
Way, but now Everett is long
Gone and the hut is 10 years
Built and so is the boy who
I made it for and whenever
The story comes up he learns
A little more about Everett,
Things gone by and the love
For something done right

Walk around
Listening to
My boots

You lift
with a

& he

which lifts


The same bird every night
In the same tree singing
The same song that does
The same very songful
Thing inside of me

I could hold you
All morning like this —
Loose summer dress
In my hands, brush of
Sunburn on your shoulders,
The feel of your waist,
And a game of tip-toeing
Who is taller, as we kiss
And won’t let go

In her stocking feet and the
Pleats of her skirt, the way
The blouse is plain and opened
At the sand of her throat and her
Face is burned with winter and
So happy, that it is only then I
Notice something more — a
Necklace of rawhide and soapstone
Pebble, and even closer, the etch of
Turquoise on the piece, which brings
Me to her eyes…

Who carried the rain on his back
Who we haven’t seen for a very long time
Who knows this
Who ran like me if I ran for my life
Who crossed the wet dirt road without a track
Who had me look over the same place twice
Who mussed the deep pool river
Who reminded me of nothing else
Who crossed the road and hit a vertical bank
Who vanished up that bank of trees and brush venetian
Who isn’t easy to forget
Who isn’t a riddle

Leaf hangs
To one beat-up
Sawmill log

in the garden
along the rows

on her long hair
down her arms

copyright 1999 Bob Arnold

reprinted from Once in Vermont by Bob Arnold, Gnomon, 1999.


ONCE IN VERMONT. Gnomon, 1999. First edition. Mint copy. Bright pictorial stiff wraps with excellent spine and crisp text throughout. New. No cloth edition issued. ISBN 0-917788-74-5. 128 pages, limited: $13.50

Bob Arnold lives in the Green Mountains of Vermont where he has long made his living as a builder, stonemason, poet and bookseller. His many books of poetry and prose include Where Rivers Meet, Once in Vermont, On Stone, American Train Letters, Invent A World, Life's Little Day and Hiking Down From A Hillside Sky. Since 1971, with Susan Arnold he has edited books, anthologies and journals from Longhouse. His ongoing Woodburners series is available online.

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