Peeling Squash by Mark Belair

We had the whole summer afternoon
to peel squash in the cool of the barn,
me and Mike and Old Ed, the tenant
farmer before Mike who still dropped
by from time to time in clean overalls
to check on the progress of the crops.

Mike asked Ed, as I rose to drink freezing
water from a dusty black hose, about an old
stooped woman he might remember, but Ed
couldn’t remember; well, anyway, Mike said,
she came back and without even asking set
herself to picking fudge just like she used to.

Fudge grew wild in the gullies
and along the borders of the farm.

Ed lowered his squash-peeling knife and
thought back again, but his remembering
days were long past, the old farm regulars
unrecoverable, and as I stood looking at him
and Mike—my lips dripping with the coldest,
clearest water, the brightest sunlight slanting
through the grittiest barn walls and rankest
barn air—the practical, weather-beaten farmers
simply returned to their calm, repetitive work.

Then I noticed an older, teenage worker
peeling squash in the barn’s dark recesses
and said to him, We don’t live in that
world, do we? Meaning a world in which
wild fudge is accepted as a matter of fact.

No, he said with a matter-of-fact shake of my—
he was the future me in this dream—head.

Then we returned to peeling squash, dream
work we accepted—

in our own dream world—
as matter-of-fact.

field of squash with mountains
Squash Field by US Fish and Wildlife. CC license.

Mark Belair
Mark Belair’s poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Alabama Literary Review, Euphony Journal, Harvard Review, and Michigan Quarterly Review. Author of seven collections of poems, his most recent book is Stonehaven, a work of fiction (Turning Point Books, 2020). He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize multiple times, as well as for a Best of the Net Award. Please visit his site at www.markbelair.com.

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