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Farmhouses curl like horns of plenty, hide
scrawny bare shanks against a barn, or crouch
empty in the shadow of a mountain. Here
there is no house at all—
only the bones of a house,
lilacs growing beside them,
roses in clumps between them,
a gap for a door, a chimney
mud-chinked, an immense fireplace,
the skeleton of a pine,
and gandy dancers working on the rails
that run not thirty yards from the once door.
I heard a gandy dancer playing on a jew’s harp
Where is now that merry party I remember long ago?
Nelly was a lady ... twice ... Old Black Joe,
as if he laid his right hand on my shoulder,
saying, “Your father lived here long ago,
your father’s father built the house, lies buried
under the pine—”
Sing Nelly was a lady
... Blue Juniata ... Old Black Joe:
for sometimes a familiar music hammers
like blood against the eardrums, paints a mist
across the eyes, as if the smells of lilacs,
moss roses, and the past became a music
made visible, a monument of air.
Malcolm Cowley, “Blue Juniata” from Blue Juniata: A Life. Copyright © 1985 by Malcolm Cowley. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Source: The Portable Malcolm Cowley (1990)