“She died a dozen times before I died who could not die so frequently”

NYMPH AND SHEPHERD
~ by Donald Hall

She died a dozen times before I died,
And kept on trying, nymph of fatality.
I could not die but once although I tried.

I envied her. She whooped, she laughed, she cried
As she contrived each fresh mortality,
Numberless lethal times before I died.

I plunged, I plugged, I twisted, and I sighed
While she achieved death’s Paradise routinely.
I lagged however zealously I tried.

She writhed, she bucked, she rested, and, astride,
She posted, cantering on top of me
At least a hundred miles until I died.

I’d never blame you if you thought I lied
About her deadly prodigality.
She died a dozen times before I died
Who could not die so frequently. I tried.

##

The multi-orgasmic capacity of a woman in ecstasy is seen as a series of “petit morts,” or little deaths, by her astonished and admiring lover. A brilliant use of the villanelle form.

“When the cart is empty he sells the cart”

OX CART MAN
~ by Donald Hall

In October of the year,
he counts the potatoes dug from the brown field,
counting the seed, counting
the cellar’s portion out,
and bags the rest on the cart’s floor.

He packs wool sheared in April, honey
in combs, linen, leather
tanned from deerhide,
and vinegar in a barrel
hooped by hand at the forge’s fire.

He walks by his ox’s head, ten days
to Portsmouth Market, and sells potatoes,
and the bag that carried potatoes,
flaxseed, birch brooms, maple sugar, goose
feathers, yarn.

When the cart is empty he sells the cart.
When the cart is sold he sells the ox,
harness and yoke, and walks
home, his pockets heavy
with the year’s coin for salt and taxes,

and at home by fire’s light in November cold
stitches new harness
for next year’s ox in the barn,
and carves the yoke, and saws planks
building the cart again.

##

Donald Hall memorializes his ancestors’ rural life and its cycle of harvest and market in the days before pickup trucks. He nowadays lives on what was, decades ago, his grandfather’s old New Hampshire farm and he writes in what was once his boyhood room, he has said in a recent interview.