193 Readings | 1 Rating


Jaíme is sitting at the blank worksheet, struggling with the soft graphite of a blunt, yellow pencil. The sky is dark, and the snow comes on. The milk is gathering heavy cream at its top. It tastes of grass and of lonesome hooves, we recall as they fill the jugs for thanks. Outside, a stark black sheep and a dark brown cow stand beneath the enormous haze of a frozen cloud.

Hair and Tooth, Breast and Nail. His memory scans the pale light and negotiates Sky and Grass. The occluded sun of yesterday sinks low over Champlain, as it does this time of year—as it will this time of day. Against the wrinkled page, wood splits. The graphite cracks.

Jaime is my age, and never made it past fifth grade. I look over at him. He looks over at me, as if asking, what next? A man who reads as if he were only five or six? Family don’t need no words from him, the foreman said. Every month, he sends a check.

And me? I've been teaching here three weeks. The only thing I’ve got is a clumsy blade I use to whittle at soft wood and nib. He and the other granjeros had eyes that said, I wish you wouldn't, but in the end said thanks. It’s been 14 hours of herding and milking. He has no desire to keep on going. He sighs, and leans back over the table. I gaze at the bare, unfinished walls of the homestead. Demons wrestle quietly on the television. A silent virgin croons above. The graphite is getting dull again, and the world wraps around the tired weight of every word.

Madre mía, no me olvides, reads the poster on the wall.

Who knows where the tired roads end or begin for us—was it then or now?
And what gives us the lives we live, or the tongues that lead us out?

Posted 09/02/13
Originally published in "Bread Loaf Literary Journal" (Summer 2013)
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