I wrote of the singer Greg Brown referencing a poem by Pablo Neruda
. Near as I can tell, Brown was referencing "Cierto Cansancio." I am not 100 percent certain of the following translation, but it goes something like this:
I am weary of chickens:
no one knows what they are thinking,
and they look at us with dry eyes
and consider us unimportant...
Regarding Neruda's chickens, I have heard Greg Brown say (and — full attribution — I have seen him similarly quoted): "It's true. They do, and we are...but it's hard to take that from a damn chicken."
I'd like to say I did the Neruda translation on my own, but I did not. My wife is fluent in Spanish, and she is raising our two girls to be bilingual. I have picked up some vocabulary, but the best I can manage is a Midwestern version of farm-boy Spanglish recently demonstrated when I cautioned my daughter Amy against running into the street with the phrase, "Cuidado dere, Snortburger."
I picked up the term cuidado during a visit to Mexico. I was watching a grandfather oversee a maelstrom of over-sugared tots. As they screeched and ran laps around the dining room he just kept chanting, "¡Cuidado! ¡Despacio! ¡Cuidado! ¡Despacio!" I have adopted the same incantation and find it soothing, if insufficient.
I came to parenting late, and, as a long-time bachelor, always swore that if I had to spoon-feed a baby, I wouldn't move my lips. Apparently, this is not possible.
In Coop, I write of how we delivered our baby at home in our old farmhouse with the help of a midwife. I was 42 years old, and when I finally held the baby I kept looking at the tiny being and thinking, 42 plus 18, meaning, I'll be 60 if live to see her through emancipation. I told a friend this. He has several grown children. "Eighteen," he said with a patient smile, "ain't the half of it."
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The children must be fed, so I have begun work on the next book. In general, I am putting myself in the presence of old-timers. One of the persons I hope to write about is a fellow named Tom (he lives one valley over and I mentioned him in Coop). Here's a photo of me "helping" him on his sawmill.
Tom, being very patient with the help.
And here's what Tom does for recreation:
He built that cannon himself. And see that target? He can hit it.
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In closing, a blast from the past, because people have asked. I once wrote a book called Population: 485. One of the characters was a cross-eyed butcher called Bob the One-Eyed Beagle. If you think my reference to his crossed eye is insensitive, fear not: as I say in the book, Bob has a story he tells everybody he meets in which he details how he came to be cross-eyed. In the book, I quote him reciting the story — it is completely untrue, utterly hilarious, and just slightly naughty.
I always hesitate to use the term "character" for someone like Bob. In fact, he is my friend and fellow citizen. We spent 12 years as neighbors and on the same fire department. It is really something when someone like him weathers someone like me telling his story from my point of view. He's been very good-natured about it, appearing in a documentary for the History channel and still allowing me to serve elbow-to-elbow with him in the Jamboree Days beer tent each year. People ask me if we're still in touch, and I say you bet. As a matter of fact, in Coop, I write of how he turned my pigs into bacon.
So, in honor of my friend and neighbor and fellow firefighter (and a guy not afraid to commandeer the karaoke microphone), two photos:
Me and the Beagle. We were cleaning up hose after a fire. I have subsequently lost a lot of hair. Beagle remains well-pelted.
The Beagle's tattoo. A cross-eyed Beagle, naturally.
Thanks, Beagle. See you in the beer tent.