©Poems of R.F.Mueller- Other Times, Other Thoughts
(based on a rumor, with a little liberty taken)
Hear them now, can't you hear those peepers call?
You say there's not a swale nearby?
Hell is spring waking to the voice of frogs,
Those only witnesses to a deed
That corners me in this dark room
With age and pain and fear that I might die.
But it wasn't always so.
Rufe - how I wish that I could see him.
Like when we fooled the preacher,
Or was it the school teacher,
Where the gravel road stretched down
To the valley from the town?
Those big box elders, I can see them yet,
Where during recess time we swung
A short while on old tires.
Then we always called him Charlie.
We were five brothers and a sister,
And in all the world there was no pain or debt
Greater than sunburn or work yet to be done.
I remember the first soft April days
When we put the guns and traps away
And sunned ourselves against the woodpile,
As we argued about the chores
And how he left them all to me.
The sunlight slanted down in just such a way
To dry the sawdust pile light brown, so that
In the cracks you could see the snow still underneath.
And on the hickory hills the fallen leaves
Were plastered flat, and the spiders crawled across that ragged mat.
On those nights, drifting off to sleep
While the peepers spiked the starry sky,
You heard the trains on the far main line
Casting out their seamless robes of sound
That brushed each leafless branch and spreadsail pine
And wrapped the farmstead garrets in their folds,
Where chore-bound farm boys dreamed
About the miles of rail
Leading always to the north and west,
To hidden camps beneath the evergreens,
To sunsets burning up the prairie hills.
Then one day I caught the iron ladder in my hand
And never was the same.
I'd puzzled through the week on what to take
So they wouldn't find my bundle or miss
The axe, the blankets and the pot.
Then for the first time to feel the rush of air
And see the hallelujah overreaching dawn
From the vantage of that rocking chariot car.
To laugh at the farmer at his milking,
To feel the bundle in your hand
With all you need or ever will,
A feeling that comes to me still;
Nothing between you and the sky
But sweet coal smoke and cinder hail.
I learned to duck the overpasses and
The wires hanging down and watch
For railroad dicks in the bigger towns.
Sometimes after riding for a while
I'd tell some bug-eyed kid
How I'd prospered on the road,
Like when I found the dead man,
Missing head and all along the track
But with his pocketbook still full,
And how I wore his clothes.
Or how, more than once,
I'd dined on Chicken lured to a fishhook with some corn.
Lost in the restless vagabonding world of rail,
The backwoods camps and roaring night saloons,
My family ties wore thin.
So that I never heard when Pa died
And how it fell to my brothers to work the farm.
But when Ma died the farm was sold,
And when I came back through winter storms,
The shares had all been dealt
And I was left out in the cold.
I don't know why Rufe asked to go with me
When I got set to leave for that last time
But when the freshets ran across the fields
We caught the night Soo Line.
I didn't want to take him along at all,
He was so green in everything,
In the woods and in the towns,
And he couldn't cook a thing.
But he had the cash I never had and never would,
And in all the rushing miles
The thought of it was never off my mind.
Then one night by a deserted sawmill yard
(I won't say where, but you can trace it down)
We made our camp by the river along the siding,
Where granite slabs lay smoked and cracked
From all the jungle cooking fires.
And as our flames drove the blue night back,
We ate our supper and drank it straight,
And quarreled again about the money and the farm.
We were brothers but we quarreled,
And from the swamp frog voices piped
A chorus to our shouts,
Not like the childhood spats of old,
But anger, red and black and striking out and out,
An awful bridge between living blood and lifeless stone.
And suddenly his dark hair stuck from beneath his cap
Like a wounded muskrat's hide,
Like one you wanted to bring back
After you'd clubbed it in a trap.
Then lying there dead was my brother, yes,
And all my years fell by his side.
I carried him to where the millrace flowed,
Dark water in the dark night's dread,
And slipped him from the slippery edge,
But not before I took what now was mine,
The money hidden in his clothes.
This small frog ( Pseudacris crucifer ) is one of the most common, and due to its loud, melodious, piping call, one of the most conspicuous frogs in eastern North America. This poem is an amalgam of intense personal experiences and country style rumors discussed in oblique terms before children. Thus, swinging on "box elders", references to the "sawdust pile", and stanza 2 in general, illustrate the exact detail characteristic of ultra-impressionable childhood. Stanza 3 reflects the raw sights and sounds, and the emotions they engendered, as I drifted off to sleep in my attic bed, just below the thin shelter of roofing boards, that let in every sound, and frequently, also, a thin dusting of snow discovered on winter mornings. Much also was based on exciting- and sometimes gruesome- tales of survival on the road, told by actual participants- such as the "Ted" of another poem- to us open-mouthed youngsters.