661: The Field
661: The Field
I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.
I am prone to making up stories about strangers I see from a distance. Even as a kid, I’d delight in giving someone I didn't know a whole invented backstory. It was a way of imagining that I could be them in another life, that somehow if I could allow them a complex narrative, we might not be strangers after all.
In today’s poem, we see how the speaker observes two people sleeping in a field. In that moment of observation the question about who the sleeping people are becomes deeply entwined with the question about who the speaker is as well.
by Rick Barot
Two people are asleep in a field. The light is not yet up. The air is cold, even though it is summer. I cannot get closer than where I am. I know only so much about them. I know they are not dead. I know they are asleep because one of them has moved, just enough to show it is a movement you make in sleep, an adjustment of resting weight. I don’t know if it is romantic that they are in this field. Or if it is drunkenness or despair. From this distance their clothes are black. They are two men, or a man and a woman, or two women. I am not near enough to learn what their bodies are, or how proximate or distant from each other. It is the corner of my eye that has seen them, walking quickly past. It is a corner of my mind that has seen them, a startled glance, then that glance widening. They have no belongings, no things that speak of displacement. The field is askew with untended grass, except where they have flattened it. Have they been here the full length of the night, or just the previous hour? Who are they for whom the grass is a bed? Who are those others, elsewhere, sleeping in the open back of a truck, or on the ground behind a guarded fence? I am walking in the countryside, so maybe they are people of myth. Or they are people of a labor I know nothing about. There are birds singing to the dawn. There is the sound of a big wheel rolling somewhere. There are trees, as tall as parents, but they have not slept under them. In the dark, alone, I went out to see the turn toward morning. Then I saw them. What the imagination would do with two people sleeping in a field is keep them where they are, unknowable, untouched. The imagination also wants them to stir, to wake them back into their stories. The day will be hot. The smell of yesterday’s heat is still in the air, like the sweat of a body. What would bring me to a field in the night and have me sleep there? Whose hand would I be holding, out of desire or fear? My pants’ hems are heavy with dew. I know how far away I am from everyone. Am I a child again, am I old? Or am I only who I am now, astounded at the transport of the body from one end of time to another.
"The Field" by Rick Barot. Used by permission of the poet.