I would walk the half mile down the gravel road
past the pond and the draft horses, past
Irv Chupp’s son chasing his sisters’ braids
to Joe Miller’s place. He’d be in the barn.
He’d hobble out to greet me like a large
rawboned elf. He’d take my gallon jar
and swoop back into the dark of the barn.
He’d settle on a low stool, his gimp leg
splayed out to one side, and start in milking.
He’d squirt the milk directly into my jar.
Every ten beats he’d shoot a stream at one
of the gray barn cats fawning at his flanks.
Video from Heartsongs presentation, February 13, 2014.
See Acknowledgments for details.
I might say “Joe, why do those guinea hens
make that funny noise?” He’d say “K-k-k-kenny,
I heard something…now it m-m-may not be
t-true…well, to make a long s-s-story short…”
and he’d launch into a wild meander on
guineas and their secret idiosyncrasies.
By then we’d have moved out next to his buggy
under the willow tree. The rasp of the cicadas
blended with the astral whirr of the guineas.
The sun had slid down on the horizon.
I had a beard then, wore denim clothes, and a
beat-up straw, so Joe and the others
regarded me, I guess, as an offbeat
partisan. He might snatch up a copy
of the Amish paper with news from the
colony in Venezuela—that Toby Miller,
son of Daniel, had fallen from his horse,
had broken a leg, but was on the mend.
Joe’s job was leading horses into the ring
at the local sale barn. I was there once
when the auctioneer deferred to him.
“Joe, what do you know about this horse?”
Joe lurched to a stop, paused a second,
then said “W—w-well, he’s got wind like Fr-freddy
Swartzendruber, and goes down the road like
Ch-chrissy Ropp.” The locals got their chuckle
out of that, but he’d given them the goods.
Joe’s wife Fanny would appear at the back door
in gray dress, wire-rims, her thick ankles.
With hands on hips she’d yell out “Joe Miller!”
He’d tap me briskly on the shoulder
And say “Well, K-kenny, gotta go now…
see ya in a few days,” and swing that leg
toward the house with all those cats in tow.