Folk Tale

written by

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All knobs and knuckles, hammer knees and elbows 
they were a multitude of two, man and woman 
dwelling as one tight flesh. In hallways, 
on stairs vaguely lit by twilight, in their own 
meager bed they would collide. . . veer off. . .
collide, like aging children aiming those 
bumper cars, madly in Kansas Coney Islands.
Blue sparks jumped on their ceiling, lit her stockings 
strangling his faucet, his fist plumbing
her shoulder's depth for blood. Until, as it is told,
they brought the cow into the house, straight from the barn, 
oppressed for years with milk. They tied it, 
lowing, to the icebox, pastured it
on rubber plants and dusty philodendrons.
They brought the horse in next, leaving the plow 
like an abandoned aircraft, nose down
in rusting fields of corn. The pig, the donkey, 
the rooster with its crowd of hens, they even
brought a neighbor's child complete with spelling words 
and scales that wandered up and down the untuned 
piano searching for roost as the chickens 
searched and the cow, nuzzling the humming 
frigidaire as if it were a calf.


So they survived with all that cuckoo's brood, 
hearing the horse stamp through the floorboards,
the donkey chew the welcome mat, and all night long 
through tumbling barricades of sleep the yeasty 
rise and fall of breath. By blue television light 
they milked and gathered, boiled the placid eggs 
that turned up everywhere, laughed with the child, 
fed the pig, and glimpsed each other's rounded limbs
reflected for a moment in the copper
washtub or around the feathers of a settling hen. 
And winter passed; and spring; and summer,
The child left first, all braided, for the school bus. 
The cow died of old griefs. The horse dreaming 
of harness, the pig of swill, the donkey
of what magnitude of straw, broke out one night 
and emptied the ark. Man and woman leaning 
on brooms stood at the kitchen door and waved, 
saw through a blaze of autumn the cock's comb 
like one last, bright leaf flutter and disappear. 
Then jostling a bit, for ceremony's sake,
they turned and lost themselves in so much space.

© Linda Pastan